Are you put out that a community nativity display was nixed by a city council? Did a checkout clerk greet you with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? Maybe Christmas music annoys you when the Advent fast hasn't even arrived?
Not me. I am not compelled to "reclaim" or "rescue" Christmas from the many who ignore and the few who despise its magnificent origins.
How can I be anxious or offended? I am in too much awe of its startling truth: that a baby is God, gasping for air, clasping for mother's milk, flailing his small limbs in a feed trough; taking on my frailty, contingency, vulnerability, that I might partake in his everlasting nature.
The baby is now Lord of all things visible and invisible, forever "one of us," still bearing his now glorified, nail-scarred flesh at the Father's side, making all things new for all persons, hallowing the far-flung cosmos — matter's maker now made matter, redeeming every atom and every stoney heart. This reality overpowers me with its brilliant mystery.
I want to share this authentic Christmas. I want everyone to know this God become clay so that we might eat from the Tree of Life.
Whether they believe the story, whether they practice holy Christmas as I do — with deep joy that prostrates before his Incarnation — does not dampen my praise or slacken my faith. I do not skip a beat. It does not alarm me.
The season our society calls "Christmas" does in so many ways fall short of this great mystery, but I wonder if Christian frustration and anger at the now monthlong celebrations stem from an unexamined need for the surrounding culture to buttress our untested faith in the God who became man. Can we trust the real deal without their cooperation or support? Why does so little set us at odds with our neighbors?
Should we not welcome the chance to embody genuine belief and practice, to incarnate love, in the face of all lesser versions and visions of Christmas? This is our opportunity. This is our calling.
After all, the first Christmas occurred in obscurity, without tinsel or holly. In a small town, in a cave amid manure, straw, and animal breath, Magnificence came forth breathing, born of a woman, and almost no one noticed. A star and angels are needed to find him, down a blind, trash-strewn alley, the holy family are huddled against the night air. Then, at dawn, the fallen world went about its business, unaware that a glory had shone that would never be put out, that in time will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. No lack of awareness or poverty of reverence, no stubborn denial, can prevent this.
When the wood of the manger joins the wood of the cross in us, when the transfiguration of humanity by the divine nature is manifested in us, when Jesus Christ is revealed in a people captivated by the hardwood glories of Bethlehem and Golgotha, we will no longer need to talk about reclaiming or rescuing anything.
Christmas does not require our defensiveness or salvage operations. It rather beckons us to a deeper imitation of Divine Clay.
The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Photo: Christmas consumerism illustration, © pryzmat | View Portfolio / Shutterstock.com
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