Christmas is almost certainly the most diluted American holiday. Some see it as a celebration of family and friends, others prefer to use it as a time of giving, some unabashedly look forward to receiving, and Christians demand that our fellow Christmas observers acknowledge that Jesus is the real “reason for the season.”
“Baby Jesus” is the main character of the evangelical church’s national Christmas play, and Christians and non-Christians alike marvel at our nativity scenes, storybooks, Hallmark cards and pop songs and proclaim, “Isn’t that cute?” They’re right to do so. Babies are cute.
I don’t know offhand the origin of Christmas as a holiday. I’m not sure if it was the concept of “Baby Jesus” or something else that dominated the thoughts of the church when the holiday was first founded. But I do know that such a singularly minded holiday tends to be needlessly fruitless.
In Christmas, Christians have an unprecedented opportunity to engage the world in celebration of the real miracle of Christmas. Not the miracle of birth, but the miracle of incarnation. We’re not merely celebrating “The Birthday of Jesus,” as if the only thing that made Christmas special was that a really important person was born on this day. Instead, we ought to celebrate the incarnation. God became man. God with us. God as one of us, for our sakes.
This truth is not “cute.” It is earthy. It is Jesus’ first great sacrifice. It was an unpleasant reality for that particular person of the Trinity. And it was a glorious beginning to a glorious gospel story. “Away in a Manger” doesn’t cover it. “Silent Night” is not enough. We don’t merely admire a “holy infant so tender and mild.” We must acknowledge the truth that though Jesus was God he did not consider such a status something to cling to but instead made himself a humble servant in the form of mankind. From His perspective this is both a glorious and ugly truth. From our perspective it is a glorious and humbling truth.