>I thought it would be fun to share one of the Christmas messages I preached on the podcast.
In case anyone wanted to chat about it, I have put a short set of bullet points here.
- Trying to explain our holiday celebrations to someone from outer space or from a foreign land who had never seen them might be tricky. To get from a poor family having a baby a long time ago to our massive shopping sprees and gift exchanges might take a while.
- Consumerism is one of the elephants of Christmas. It’s that giant presence in the room that’s just easier to ignore than to acknowledge and address.
- The “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” controversy exposes another elephant. The fact that this whole holiday is centered around the gift of love and humility makes it tough to sell when it gets entangled with cultural constructs and political realities.
- The Gospel of Matthew has two things that none of the other Gospels in our Bible have. One is the slaughter of the innocents where King Herod (King of the Jews) tries to murder all boys under two years of age in the region. The second is Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt. It is clear that Matthew includes these because he is trying to tell us a distinct type of story: an Exodus story. He includes images and allusions to portray Herod as a Pharaoh character and then connect with this to Egypt in a way that makes it impossible to miss. ( There are many other devices that Matthew uses to construct his gospel in a way that mirrors the Pentateuch.)
- These two elements from Matthew’s Gospel reveal biggest of the elephants of Christmas. The Christmas story is couched in, set in a context of, violence. When we ‘Hallmark’ this holiday we sometimes sanitize it and sterilize it to the point that it is unrecognizable from the Gospel accounts.
- Let’s be honest, as these two Jewish young people flee to Egypt to become illegal aliens, foreigners in a land that holds deep cultural implications for their people, the idea of people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘ Happy Holidays’ seems pretty irrelevant.
- In fact I think that this exposes two things. The first is that the “Merry Christmas” controversy is not about this at all but about something else entirely. The second is that we are disconnected from the violence of that first Christmas.
- When the angels say “Peace on Earth – goodwill toward mankind” it might have seemed redundant to those that first heard it. The region already had a Peace : Pax Romana. The Peace of Rome was enforced this way — you obey the rules and there will be peace. If Jesus came as the Prince of Peace he comes into the context of the Pax Roman and provides a different kind of Peace.
- We miss this point because we are disconnected from the context of that original Christmas. when the Magi say to Herod “we’re looking for the one born King of the Jews” they are speaking to the one appointed by Rome ‘King of the Jews’. this would have been a subversive sentence. “ Peace on the earth” would have been a subversive sentiments to the Peace of Rome – saying that it wasn’t good enough. Many Christians don’t know that the phrase “Jesus is Lord” is a mirror to a very popular saying in the centuries before and after the birth of Christ. people in every direction from the place Jesus was born would have said “ Cesar is Lord”. So when Jesus’ followers would have said that he was Lord they were in an act of subversion saying that Caesar isn’t Lord.
- The Christmas story is couched in violence and is violence to the ways and powers of this world. It still is today. The Christmas story says to the structures and institutions of this world ‘ you don’t get to stay this way’. The peace that you provide commerce through violence and submission and victory and is not a real peace. when we sanitize, sanctify and sterilize the Christmas story we lose this part of it.
- Revelation 12 is the Christmas story as seen from heaven. It is distilled to us through a genre of literature known as Apocalyptic. It is the Christmas story nonetheless.
- You never see Christmas cards of the image of a pregnant woman lying on her back with a dragon perched between her legs ready to eat the baby as it comes out. I’ve never seen a Christmas card carrying the image of the slaughter of innocents or of a terrified couple fleeing into the wilderness running for their life.
- The Christmas carol “Oh Holy Night” is probably my favorite. I especially like the big notes of the chorus: Fall on your knees! Oh hear the Angels voices! Oh night divine Oh night when Christ was born! Oh night divine… and mostly I’m just hoping that I’ll be able to hit that big note at the end. Mostly I don’t. But it’s such a climactic moment in that song that after it’s over afraid I’d miss the next chorus because I’m thinking about how I can never hit that note outside the shower!
- It’s a shame because that next verse is amazing. And in the context of what we are talking about — the violence of the first Christmas And the subversive nature of the story– it makes a lot more sense.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!