There is much that is to love about the traditions of Christmas. Time with family, Christmas programs, gifts, and it is the one time a year that we really seem to enjoy that there is snow on the ground. At the same time there are some other traditions surrounding Christmas that are not quite as heartwarming. We often hear vocal laments of the consumerism that surrounds the holiday. It just wouldn’t be Christmas if our social media streams weren’t blowing up with posts regarding the Christmas music that is in the stores on the day after Halloween or complaints of consumerism as Black Friday approaches. I have witnessed much of what we lament about the Christmas season first hand. Working as a manager at Toys R Us in three cities and four different stores helped me to see that these distractions away from the meaning of Christmas are found everywhere. Nothing has put a damper on my Christmas spirits more than working through the Tickle Me Elmo Christmas season many years ago.
The question I continually ponder is why are we so obsessed with consumerism and all of the other distractions that we encounter during this season? While we lament it we also seem to thrive on it. Why is that? As I ponder this question I am drawn to a text that is traditionally not used as a passage regarding Christmas. John 1:14 & 16 tell us that “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (ESV) The first chapter of John tells us who this baby we celebrate in the manger is. He is not just an ordinary child born in a backwater part of Palestine who just happened to become famous. He is the incarnate Word of God; the second person of the Trinity. That is not an ordinary baby held by Mary. It is God in human flesh.
That fact should make us a little bit uncomfortable. Could it be we don’t really want to face what Christmas really means? God came down not for a site seeing tour of the first century Middle East. He came down to reconcile you and me to himself. When the sound of the baby crying as he took his first breath reached the ears of those in Bethlehem, on that first Christmas night, they did not know who they were hearing. As the shepherds came to visit him they didn’t know that this was the beginning of a life that would end hanging from a device of Roman execution. They were completely unaware that this little one came to save us from our sin and unbelief by voluntarily giving his life.
At a Christmas program a few years a small stable was constructed at the front of the church. It was just the right height that when viewed from the pews it was as if the backlit cross at the front of the sanctuary was resting on top of it. I was struck by the fact that in all of the Christmas hustle and bustle I nearly missed it. I was so focused on everything else that was going on that I almost missed the real meaning of Christmas; the God who shows us grace upon grace by appearing in human flesh and living that he may die for our sin. Without the manger we do not have the cross. Without the cross Christmas cannot bring us the peace with God that it promises.