For some people, Christmas has nothing to do with religion.
It’s time off work, time to eat, watch sports, exchange gifts, hope for snow, chuckle about Santa.
For some, it’s a time to drink too much and try to corner someone under the mistletoe.Others just wish it would go away (although I suspect they still accept the Christmas bonuses) while for others, it’s completely about religion. They chide those who embrace Santa and boycott stores who refer to “the holidays” or, heaven forbid, “X-mas”.
I grew up with a little different slant: a full embrace of Santa Claus, presents and trees, but a church that went out of its way to remind us that we don’t really know what day Jesus was born.
I’m still on this journey, but lately the faith aspect is becoming more important.
My parents didn’t shy away from Jesus’ birth story. The attitude I grew up with was that even though history may not give us an exact date, there’s no harm in anything that turns men’s hearts to God. Jesus did come, after all. It’s right there in the Bible. We remember his resurrection every Sunday – surely we can celebrate his birth once a year.
With the increasing commercialism of the holiday in American culture (apologies to anyone who’s ever gotten a new car for Christmas with giant red bow on it) I find myself, like many of you, turning away from all that materialism. And when you turn away from one thing, you turn toward another.
Filter out Hollywood and Madison Avenue, and the Christmas story is pretty stark:
- A poor couple whose timetable for pregnancy didn’t exactly meet the church-lady test.
- A forced march back to the hometown for a census and (Oh, boy!) taxes.
- Labor pains and no place to lay your head (never a good combination).
- Emergency accomodations in a barn, with a feeding-trough for baby’s first crib.
We focus on the glory – a singing skyful of angels, wise men with gifts, shepherds keeping watch – and to be sure, there’s a glorious aspect to this baby’s arrival. But no matter how often preachers remind us, we tend to avoid thinking about why that baby came in the first place.
He came to pay the price for sin, for us. He came to die.
The world is much more comfortable with the baby in a manger than with the man on a cross, but they are the same person. And Christmas is a wonderful time to remember that the man on the cross is just as innocent as the baby was.
Our whole nation still grieves over the loss of innocent lives on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Connecticut. Grief is appropriate – but for those families, for that community, for our nation and for all mankind, there’s a glorious hope that overwhelms grief.
We can remember Dec. 25 for the same reason.
And we know that story doesn’t end with a funeral.
Bob Buckel is the Messenger’s executive editor.