It’s finally Christmas! Now, are you angry enough?
Despite general cheerfulness and good-will rampant this time of year, it seems there has been a concerted effort to make Christmas a time to be angry. From the “War on Christmas” to that God-forsaken P.C. greeting, “Happy Holidays!” it appears as if the whole world is trying to take Christ out of Christmas.
The lastest example might be this beauty of a meme floating around the interwebs as of late.
As Snopes has pointed out, there is no conspiratorial effort to remove images of the nativity from Facebook.
Of course, there should be an effort to remove this image of the nativity from the world. While I commend their efforts to correctly place the manger scene in a cave, the combination of dharma light coming our of Jesus’ forehead, the blatant white-washing of the characters, and its poor artistic quality send enough mixed messages that I think it would be best if we avoid this image altogether.
For whatever reason, Christmas seems to have become a divisive holiday. People on one side want to get angry about leaving Christ out of Christmas, and others want to get angry by pointing out the pagan roots of the “Christian” holiday.
It seems Christmas has become about the battle between culture and religion.
Christmas and Cultural Christianity
Christmas, like every Christian holiday, has been celebrated in thousands of different ways across time and cultures. For much of its life, it has been a happy, yet Church-centric, holiday (it was “Christ-mass” after all). As its popularity spread it picked up different cultural practices, some originating in pagan cultures (burn that Yule log!) and some being picked up from other Christian holidays (the Feast of St. Nicholas is on December 6th).
In places where Christianity became a dominant religion, Christian holidays often became cultural holidays, and as those same cultures became less Christian, the religious heart of the holiday was sloughed off and the cultural veneer was left. This is perhaps why many in the United States mark the beginning of the Christmas season with “Black Friday” rather than the first Sunday of Advent. For most today, Christmas is an American holiday celebrating what we do best as a culture: conspicuously consume.
We can be sad about the religious death of Christmas around the world, but that doesn’t mean we need to get all worked up. It just reflects what we should already know, that cultural Christianity isn’t really Christianity.
Christmas and Incarnation
The beauty of the Christmas story does remind us, however, that every Christianity is cultural. The myriad of meanings and culture specific practices is a wonderful expression of the core theological idea of Christmas: incarnation.
We find the old, familiar story in Luke 2:1-5,
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
The author of Luke begins this birth narrative by placing it in its historical, political, and cultural setting, by reminding the reader that this happened somewhere, and somewhere specific! Incarnation is not a generic idea about God being born, incarnation is about God becoming specific! The beauty of the birth of Jesus is that it reveals a God who cares about us as we are. God comes to meet us, God takes on our histories, our cultures, our politics.
Rather than sitting up in heaven and decreeing truths from on high, God gets down in the muck of human existence and lives as the truth. God engages us where we are right now! Christmas is the miracle of God’s specificity. For a brief moment in time, the creator of the Universe spoke Aramaic, celebrated Jewish festivals, and felt the weight of hunger, poverty, and Roman oppression. For an even briefer moment, the Creator of the world was a small, dependent baby who could be held in your hands and laid in a food trough.
Perhaps, then, all this cultural baggage surrounding Christmas can help remind us of a God who isn’t afraid to live with us and to take on all of our ridiculousness. Perhaps, the craziness of Christmas can remind us of a God who is even crazier for entering into that fray voluntarily.
The battle of culture and Christ will never be resolved, its a baked-in tension of the Christian faith. It is what makes it difficult, but also beautiful.
So whether you’re celebrating by wearing a bad Christmas sweater, by giving a krampus diatribe, by having a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon, by going to a beautiful Church service, by serving those in need, or by doing all of the above, we here at Engaged Pentecostalism want to wish you all a very, very merry Christmas!
Christ is born!
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.