“Hey, let’s remember the reason for the season.”
That’s what Christians all over North America will say to themselves and each other as we march through advent this year. Which is great. But what is the reason we’re supposed to remember? Seriously now: What is Christmas really about?
We say we give each other gifts because on that first Christmas God gave us the greatest gift of all, the gift of Jesus. But I don’t think that’s why we give each other gifts. I think that’s how we justify giving each other gifts. Same deal with Christmas lights. We say we put up lights because Jesus is the light of the world—but personally, I mostly put them up because they’re pretty and that’s what you’re supposed to do this time of year. And because my wife loves them.
So let’s dig deeper. What’s the reason for the season?
Isaiah said, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). So Christmas is about the whole “Emmanuel” thing. God with us. Right? So we gather and celebrate the incarnation, the miracle of God becoming flesh in Christ to save us from our sins. As we should.
I fear, though, that we read those words and misunderstand them. “Unto us,” the prophet says. And again: “Unto us.” We love that, don’t we? Christmas is apparently about… us. As in, church people. The people who get it, the ones who love and know Jesus already.
Don’t get me wrong, we need to celebrate Christ’s coming to us. We need to remind ourselves of the stable and the stench, the shepherds and the straw, the miracle of that moment.
But let’s also remember Jesus was “given,” that he lay down his heavenly crown to descend to us. That he wrapped himself in mortal flesh to speak our language, share our struggles, pay our price, die our death. A few verses before Isaiah says Jesus was given “unto us,” he clarifies which “us” he’s talking about—and it’s not the church people at all: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).
Christmas, it turns out, is for people living in darkness.
This theme runs all the way through scripture. For example: “The Lord is my shepherd,” but that same shepherd will leave the ninety-nine sheep in the fold (sheep like me) for a single lost sheep roaming blindly outside his circle of love and protection (Luke 15:1-7). Jesus hung out with prostitutes, drunks, demon possessed weirdos, IRS workers, rejects, high school dropouts, lepers, losers, and the lost.
If Christmas is for people living in darkness, then the reason for the season is clear: To shine with and for Jesus, to enter the darkness with the gospel and glory of Christ. To bring hope to the hopeless, to give ourselves for the hurting, the lost, the lame. If we truly believe this, then Christmas is high time to invite people into our faith community. To have them over for coffee. It’s a time for shovelling driveways, giving more hugs, stopping to talk. The reason for the season is sharing the love and truth of Christ with people who don’t know him yet.
If we don’t get that, we’re wasting perfectly good Christmases year after year on secondary issues.
Imagine a different kind of Christmas next year because you lived a different kind of Christmas this year. Imagine your neighbour saying, “I was in a really dark place last December until you showed up that night at my door. Seriously, it was like God turned the lights on and the whole Jesus thing started becoming real for me.”
That’s the reason for the season.