Emmanuel: Christmas Everyday

emmanuel

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; forthe Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Matthew 1

As much as I love Christmas, no one should consider it as the most important of holidays – if not for the reasons listed here, than certainly for some others.

I love the whole season; Christmas carols ring throughout the halls of my house forever. From Mariah Carey to Enya (yes, she released a “winter” album, with a few Christmas songs – my parents really like Enya), the songs reverberate constantly throughout the day. Even if no one’s listening to them. That’s a minor inconvenience at best, I assure you. My church doesn’t tend towards the “Christmas” seasonal carols, instead fit to use them as an addition or a spice of cinammon to the events on hand. Even during December!

If there was a greater evangelical opportunity, then Christmas carols during December probably exists as the greatest incentive. Seriously, all old hymns almost, by default, become great and/or memorable. People remember them because they weren’t just “catchy”; after all, Christianity’s not trying to duplicate modern pop trends, at any rate. Rather, they’re memorable AND instructive, a rarity in the modern worship scene. What amazes me the most is their relative simplicity. No one needs theological training or expertise to understand the meaning of said music; they’re self-explanatory. Take “Silent Night”, even considered an “intangible cultural treasure” by UNESCO:

Silent night! Holy night!

All is calm all is bright

Round yon virgin mother and child

Holy infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace!

Sleep in heavenly peace!

Silent night! Holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight

Glories stream from heaven afar

Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah

Christ the Saviour is born!

Christ the Saviour is born!

Silent night! Holy night

!Son of God love’s pure light

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at thy birth,

Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

If that isn’t the purest explication of the Christmas message, please tell me where one could find such a thing. The clarity of exposition AND knowledge astounds. Have you ever heard a modern worship song ever done with such clarity? The message, here, becomes so simple and straightforward as to offer to real analysis: Jesus Christ is born.

Of course, they resonate because I am a Christian, first and foremost. Yet, I don’t find Christmas particularly interesting except for the atmosphere. There’s a sense of home and hearth that comes from the peace on earth and goodwill towards men, even if it’s not the case. America’s about to incur retribution for its own reckless spending, yet here we celebrate the coming of the Savior in a manger. The greatest contradictions and paradoxes occur at such a time: those who we never thought were real human beings full of generosity and love reveal their true colors at this time of year. Yet, does this impulse come from societal pressures or a true change of heart? How many movies do you see revolving around Christmas where someone change their life completely? Have you ever seen this in a non-religious sense? I surely haven’t! Most of the people I know continue with their lives in the exact same place which December 25th placed them. Christmas seems the only time of year where people act as themselves around hearth and home. Why can’t it be this way all year ’round? That, then, remains the problem. What’s with the Christmas spirit? Why should such a kind and gentle approach towards life only happen once a year? Is it penance for the rest of our dastardly lives throughout the year, or is there something more to the whole issue?

To me, it’s a matter of pleading. Each and every year, we hope to become better people than we were before. Yet, in some sense, we need an extra push to make it to that goal in any meaningful sense. See the New Year’s resolutions for a particularly extreme example – notice how most resolutions only revolve around weight or diet, rather than fundamentally changing us as people. Anyone who’s a Christian knows, however, that Christ is risen. That, then, gives us the long and short of the story; Christmas, in its own way, isn’t so much a holiday or anything other than an arbitrary mark on a calendar. If anything, it’s a reminder of the time when the Word became flesh and walked among men. By doing so, Jesus changed the realm of human existence irrevocably through grace and redemption; God became a man.

For me, I find truth to the adage that one must live Christmas every day; we experience the grace and love of God in every waking moment by virtue of our existence. What a glorious and fabulous thing to partake! What a wondrous state of affairs that none of us deserve in this least – a holy God in communion with unholy sinners. “Immanuel” becomes the long and the short of the whole story: God with us, not just now in the present, but forever and ever.

If Galatians 2:20 gives us an accurate depiction at all, we must live as if Christmas came every day, not just once a year. God is with us!

10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” 13 Then he said, “Listen now, Ohouse of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Plus 50 cool-kid points for giving props to Mariah Carrey and Enya! 🙂
     
    Yeah, I gave a message at my church years ago about how to reinvent Christmas. I was on an anti-Christmas thing for years, and I needed to figure out how it could be redeemed (especially for myself). And it came back to your same resolve: that it’s about the incarnation of Christ in the world first, then in us, perpetually, everyday. It’s about His Kingdom coming here and now and continuously. 
     
    Agreed and good stuff!

    • @Mjoshua Yeah, I’m cool like that. Soundtrack of my life is Christmas Carols for 12 hours a day in December (and late November)
       
      Or not turning Christmas into Easter, which happens a lot. Happened at my church, anyway!

      • @Zachery Oliver You mean celebrating Jesus’ resurrection at Christmas time? Yeah, that’s a little off from the point. Or do they focus on the cross instead? I don’t know that I always understand why Christians focus on the cross more than the resurrection. I mean, yeah sacrifice. But resurrection life and what that means to the church? Far more interesting, imho.

        • @Mjoshua Yep, that’s exactly what what I mean. It’s either the cross or the resurrection, not the anticipation of both. And I think Christmas, in a way, is a little more representative of the experiences we have in normal life.

        • @Zachery Oliver Curious, does your church celebrate Pentecost? I know that holiday usually goes to the Liturgical and Pentecostal types (in their separate traditions, of course). For me, Pentecost is kinda the Church’s birthday – the day we were first filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to continue Jesus work in the world. As far as important Christian holidays go, pretty sure that should be number two, a couple dozen blocks ahead of Christmas.

  • Well said!