What is the true meaning of Christmas? So many of the movies and tv shows we will be watching this season will be asking us to consider that very question, if not leading us to an answer. I usually find, however, that not much thought goes into what makes Christmas authentic. So here is another question we can consider for Christmas: what does an authentic Christmas look like?
As I write this, our church is gearing up for the second running of our annual “Walk Thru Bethlehem.” While I remember the many positive reactions of people who took the tour last year, one comment I found kind of humorous: “Your portrayal of Christmas was quite authentic.”
Now on the one hand this was a big compliment as we converted our somewhat useless dirt floor basement space into two rustic scenes worthy of scenes from ancient times, or what we think ancient times were like. Also, the live animals wandering around our courtyard gave the feeling that you really were at a stable.
But our portrayal of Christmas was not as authentic as it might have seemed. For starters, out of all our shepherds in the shepherd scene, only one was really shepherding – the rest were young boys in need of the shepherding skills of our main shepherd. Then there were our angels. My three boys, in taking after their father, were definitely not in line for wearing any kind of halo. They joined the shepherds, under the watchful eye of our shepherd! The angels were the girls from our Sunday School. I’m not sure how angelic our Sunday School teachers would say they normally are, but they did well! Our Mary outdoors (my wife) was far more concerned for the sheep getting too close for comfort, than the comfort of her newborn baby – which of course was more of a recently imported toy. Then there were the lamas. Yes, live animals are a feature of our “Walk Thru” but not having easy access to camels, lamas will do! Never mind where they could be found when Jesus was born. So was it authentic? Or did people leave pondering the true meaning of Christmas?
Now I remember as a young lad setting for myself the New Year’s goal of reading through the Bible starting with the New Testament. I also remember being somewhat dismayed that starting in the Gospel of Matthew, I would have to read through all that Christmas stuff again when we had just spent a whole month thinking about it. To my surprise I was through the Christmas story in ten minutes and off into the life of a thirty-something Jesus. Then into Mark’s Gospel, where the Christmas story does not even get a mention. Then into Luke’s, where again ten minutes gets you past Christmas. Then into John’s Gospel where, like Mark, there is no mention of a baby Jesus, or a manger, or shepherds or wise men. And apart from Old Testament prophecies, that’s about it for the Christmas story in the Bible.
Interestingly, though Mark in his gospel account mentions nothing of the birth of Jesus, a full third of his work is dedicating to recording the final week of the life and teaching of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. It makes me wonder if when we set out to find the true meaning of Christmas we aren’t missing the mark. It makes Christmas an end in itself, it makes it a celebration with its own point, disconnected from the rest of the year and the rest of life. The story of Christmas in the Bible points beyond itself. We quickly move from baby Jesus, to a focus on an adult Jesus, with a sharp concentration on a dead Jesus and a celebratory lifting up of a risen Jesus. The Biblical account does not stop there but goes on to invite us to consider a returning Jesus. So perhaps when we ask “what is the true meaning of Christmas?” we stop short of asking the question Christmas really points us to consider: “Who is Jesus and why should I know?”
My family and I want to wish you a Merry and Meaningful Christmas. I hope that you can take the time to join one of the Glebe church families for the many Christmas celebrations on offer. I pray that you will ask the questions Christmas points us to.