The Christmas story isn’t fiction, though contemporary notions of it largely are. We speak of a jolly season where it is all smiles, gifts, and lights. There is Santa Claus, the grandfatherly figure with a wide grin, kind eyes and a sack full of toys. The dinner tables laid out with many delightful dishes and drink-filled cups. And there are angels, lots of them, with their shiny gowns and feathery wings. Well, we may still speak of Christ. At least his name is in the word. It makes little sense to leave out the ‘Christ’ in ‘Christmas’, doesn’t it? So we remember him as well. It just happens that we have remodelled him. He is a sweet baby lying on a golden, romanticized bed of hay. Gentle and mild, he would grow up into a tender, loving man who went around doing good and saying kind words.
The actual situation back then was not so exciting. The birth of Christ occurred in a Palestine conquered and thoroughly defeated by foreign nations. And it was under the rule of the Romans, a powerful and feared race. At his birth, the powers that be unleashed mayhem on an entire city, rendering mothers childless in an instant. In a society so religious, no one was loving enough to shelter a pregnant lady. And the saviour of the world had to be born in the least likely maternity room—a smelly, dung-littered, goat-dwelling stable. Far from our modern jolly nativity scene, the environment of Jesus’ birth would have been a mix of fear, pain, and uncertainty. Amid this despairing episode of a stressful journey and virgin birth, however, God was working out his redemptive plan.
Christmas is a glow of hope in a truly dark world. That was the world then, as it still is today. Yet, that is precisely what makes it significant. It is the sign that God had not and has not abandoned his beloved world. He loves it too much. In the midst of the darkness and pain, a token of light and joy appears. A Saviour is born. This is not a merely poetic hero or fictitious figure from Jewish tradition, but a real deliverer.
Nevertheless, he is nothing like we expect. He is truly poor, unknown, from a despised tribe and an insignificant race. He is so ordinary you could be pardoned if you thought little of him. He laughs like us, bleeds like us, and feels just as much pain. He was so ordinary, yet so strange. In him was life, yet a life in stark contrast to the darkness and decay all around him. He was an enigma to his world and ours, so we do what humans always do to what they can’t stand. His world took his life away and ours take his spirit away. Yet he was the answer (and still is) to the very pain, darkness, absurdity, angst and chaos of our existence.
Risen and exalted, he called (and still calls) the world away from empty religion and vain pleasure. He calls our world to truth in a sea of hype, freedom in a theatre of chains, and life in an age drunk with blood. We find hope not in our usual escape into ceremonies, pleasures, and trifles, but in a Person who gave up peace and comfort in order to give us life. Christmas confronts us with the tension of love dwelling amidst hate, peace amidst chaos, and life amidst death. It is a picture of how God often works in mysterious ways to accomplish his purposes.
In Christmas, God deals with the brokenness of our world by taking the brokenness upon himself and ultimately resolving it at the cross. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, individuals who come to him in faith find life. It does not stop there, however. God is not merely carting away individuals here and there; his goal is the world. As the beloved text points out, God’s love is for the entire world (cf. John 3:16). And he will accomplish his purpose. Christ has died and his Spirit goes on to fulfill the mission through his Church. Thus there is hope—hope for the renewal of a lost, broken, and dark world.
That is the true spirit of Christmas.