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Tavern Talk #16: Christmas–What's the Big Deal?

Christmas. It’s more than a day. It’s a state of mind. It’s a season…that starts soon after the last of the Fourth of July fireworks are detonated and rolls right into the new year. And…it can be a big headache.

Christmas comes at the end of the year, right before the month’s credit card billing cutoff date thus allowing us to start the new year with fresh new charges on our bill, and even more debt.

Christmas means added stress and pressure:

  • to find just the right thing for all those whom we want to please and the many for whom we couldn’t care less

  • to meet the expectations of those who see it as a chance to reap undeserved awards and rewards – the demands for gifts and presents and time and presence

  • of decorating our homes to match all those quaint tableaus that we see in magazines, online, on our screens

  • of being at 6-8 friend and family gatherings all taking place at the same time, never staying long enough to please some and not leaving soon enough to please others

  • of trying to see and visit with extended out-of-town family who are juggling the same logistics, and buying gifts for all of them (you can’t spend too much, but you can’t skimp either)

  • of cooking multiple feasts tweaked to accommodate all the ever-changing dietary restrictions, desires, and preferences of those that we love and those that we don’t but whom we must feed

  • of going to holiday gatherings and parties while maintaining and honoring your own ever-changing dietary restrictions, desires, and preferences, most of which are wholly inconsistent with the offerings at these soirees

  • of trying to maintain an inflated and exaggerated aura of joy, peace, fulfillment, and merriment for its entire elongated season, given all of the aforementioned challenges.

Ugh… Christmas. Must we? Really? Why?

Well, the Christmas that we “celebrate” (and despise and dread) is obviously not what was intended many, many years ago when we began celebrating it. But Christmas has become an excellent illustration of itself, why we have it, the reason for the season, the cause for Santa Clause, the motivation for the celebration. We’ve screwed up Christmas. We don’t do it right. We have taken the underlying purpose and turned it on its head.

And that is exactly why we got the reason for the season–Jesus–in the first place.

Why Christmas? Why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus? The question is really, “Why Jesus?” isn’t it?

In the beginning, there was God, creator of the universe and all that is within it, and then came our attempts to be right with the all-powerful, governing, being – our need and desire to be righteous. God is a god of love. But, alas, we were human. And a God of love is not necessarily what we always wanted, but He’s always what we needed. God created us with choice. To love God is a choice. But instead of trusting a loving God, instead of having faith in the providing God, we became wired for self-preservation. We thought of ourselves before others. We love ourselves more than we love anything or anyone else. God is love. We weren’t. So, we weren’t good at being like God. We sucked at being righteous. Oh we became very proud of the many ways that we tried to show our love to God by sacrifices, even acts of self-sacrifice, but when it came to showing love to others, which is what God really wanted, well...we sucked.

And, we haven’t really changed.

But, continuing in our history…I think that God chose to save us from ourselves by giving us some hands-on training and experience and guidance. You know what we say – “God sent his son to save us.” I find it hard to get my hands around that. That sounds great and intimidating all at the same time, but also sort of nebulous. What exactly does it mean? How could this being that isn’t a person send his “son” who also wasn’t a person but who was also a person and how would that save us exactly? I like to think of it this way: God gave us a great example of God’s love and a great example of how we are to love by giving us Jesus who exemplified it -- both by coming and by what he did while he was here. And it all began with how God provided Jesus to us.

Think about it. If you wanted to save the world from evil, how would you do it? A giant battle of some sort, right? An epic, rowdy, intense good versus evil? I mean, that has propelled novelists and moviemakers for years. And if you wanted to do it with just one person, how would you do it? You’d create a tough leader, a fighter, someone strong and good looking, who doesn’t take any crap from anyone. It would really take a superhero with out-of-this world powers and strength, who would come to kick some ass. Or a person of substantial means. You don’t have to be the strong, good looking, fighter, if you can pay people to be that for you. That is what we would do, right? That is what Hollywood does? That is what we as humans would do – well before there was Hollywood.

But, what did God do? He sent us a baby. An innocent, helpless, needy, frail, human being, whose odds of even surviving to adulthood were not much better than even in that day and time. A creature that knows only knows two things -- eating and sleeping, and well that thing that necessarily follows eating…so three things. Well four. Crying. If the other three things are not going as they should, crying is the necessary fourth. So, God sends a baby that was born to a poor, simple family, whose parents weren’t even married -- yet another challenge to his start. A baby that would have to grow up, experiencing all the pain that entails, to become a man with no visible, given, worldly advantages. Well, turns out that he did have something that others didn’t. It wasn’t x-ray vision, a killer right hook, or super-human physical strength. He had the power to heal the sick and the lame. The ability to make well and make right those whom the world perceived as afflicted by their sins. And, Jesus had the unnatural ability to love and to show love to everyone. Everyone. Without question or qualifications. Unconditionally.

And, Jesus had a simple way of communicating so that everyone understood him. And the message that he gave? The way he was going to change the world? The way that good would conquer evil? A plot to overthrow the government? A conspiracy to take over the misguided and corrupt church? A call for civil war? A scheme for a military victory over other nations? No. His message was of love. He talked about, demonstrated, exhibited, and personified love. Love of God. God’s love of us. And, love of others. This is what God wants from you he said. And, in so many words, he basically said you all have screwed it up. Love.

This is what God has been trying to tell you. Simply love. But you have taken and twisted it all around so that it looks nothing like God intended and like God wants from you. Just love.

And what did they do with that message? What did the church do? What did the religious and political leaders do? Did they jump on the bandwagon? Thank God, we have the answer! No. They killed him. And his friends? They stood by and watched.

But Jesus knew it. It happened just as he predicted. And then he came back to life. Again, as he said he would. He told his followers, who had deserted him, we’re good. Now, you know what you have to do. You know what I’ve taught you. You know what God wants and how to be right with God. Now do it. Tell everybody. And, by the way, I’ll be leaving but will be with you in spirit. See ya!

And, that’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Jesus, who gave us the answer. Jesus, who demonstrated the solution. That’s the reason for the season. God is love. Jesus was love. We are supposed to be love. And that is why we should celebrate Christmas, why we would want to give gifts and get together with family and friends. And celebrate! Out of love. And because we have the answer. It’s love. Love provided and provides the answer.

So, this holiday season, this Christmas, perhaps we can adjust the perspective that this human world would force us to have about this season. Stress less. Love more. If you feel pressure to do anything, or to be any way, feel pressured to love and be loved.

Merry Christmas! Really.


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