An invitation from my friend and Christian brother, the Ink Stained Wretch, to write about Christmas proved far harder than I might have expected. What insight can one add to an originally Christian holiday that has become ingrained in American culture to the point where many of those of other faiths celebrate it? Does one bemoan the commercialization of Christmas? That’s been done, repeatedly. What about noting the increasingly early appearance of Christmas wares in shops — a few establishments seemingly had some decorations out the day after Halloween the past couple of years? That’s somewhat related to the commercialization angle and is trite.
The “war on Christmas” got an early start this year when Starbucks chose to use plain red cups for their brew and enraging a rather crude commentator on YouTube … but apparently no one else, although there was seemingly no shortage of Christians seeking to separate themselves from the offended and secularists pointing out the silliness of the non-existent Christians in getting upset at something so trivial. I found the prospect rather boring.
Like most, but unfortunately not all, readers this author has fond memories of Christmases past, with loved ones in some cases no longer living. When my mother died in 2012 my family lost an anchor that celebrated Christmas with vigor. This author has also spent a few Christmases away from loved ones, but those pale in comparison to the separations endured by many of those with whom he served in the military, especially during the last 15 years. It should go without saying, but if you are able to be with your family and friends this Christmas, then rejoice in being able to do so and if you can comfort those who are separated from their loved ones at Christmas due to death, distance or duty then by all means please do so — you’ll be the richer for it.
But having written all of that, nothing has been offered that is original and, save for the reminder to cherish times with loved ones and to reach out to those who can’t enjoy the same little is useful. Perhaps at this point the reader is understanding why this Simple Country Vicar found this a difficult assignment.
It’s neither new nor is it original, but what is good and useful — what the Christian needs to be reminded of and what those outside the Church urgently need to hear at Christmas is the true message of Christmas — the story of a virgin mother and her child in a stable? Yes, but much more than that.
The Christmas story is about love. This is love so great that God the Son, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead condescended to our level, when Holy God became wholly man and chose to enter into the mess and the muck and the mire of our fallenness so that we who were dead in our sins might not only have forgiveness but eternal life and adoption as sons. At Christmas we remember the love of the Son of God for us, as expressed by St. Paul:
“… who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a
thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he
humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death
on a cross.” ‑ Philippians 2:6-8 (ESV)
That historical entry of God into our world, that taking on of human form to rescue fallen humanity is the greatest love story and the greatest rescue story ever told. Omniscient and omnipotent God chose to come among us in the weakness of a helpless baby in a manger. It was for that reason that the angelic hosts sang out and why, more than 2,000 years later, we still recount that birth.
My prayer for all readers is that the awesome magnitude of that event will be realized in new and potent ways this Christmas 2015.
The Reverend Charles A. Collins, Jr., is vicar of the Church of the Atonement, a Reformed Episcopal parish of the Anglican Church in North America in Mount Pleasant. He may be contacted at email@example.com.