Finding the Spirit within Christmas isn’t easy. Crass commercialism would have a cynic believe that it is nothing more than a means for making money.
Hallmark movies and greeting cards offer a sanitized version of families gathering around the table, all in good cheer. In reality Christmas can magnify the struggles that many face. Blue Christmas is a phrase that speaks to the estrangement, grief and worries that serve as a backdrop for many this holiday season.
From a faith perspective all sorts of questions are raised. Do you have to believe in the Virgin birth? Was a heavenly host really singing to the shepherds that night of Jesus’ birth? Put another way: Do you have to take the story literally for it to be true?
This is all to say, that finding the Christmas Spirit can be a daunting task.
The Good News is that the Spirit will find us. I find hope in the following quote:
The Bible is true and some of it even happened.
This provocative quote reminds me that beyond fantastic details of a virgin birth, angels, heavenly choirs and magi…is a story with truth.
Here’s the underlying truth we find in Matthew’s Gospel 1: 18 – 2: 23: That God so loved the world that God’s Spirit (breath, love, wisdom) found a home in the life of a baby named Jesus. Born to unwed peasant parents, during a time of military occupation. This child was born homeless, wrapped in rags and laid in a feeding trough (manger). A psychotic King named Herod feared the birth of this child and the hope he represented. He ordered every baby boy under age two in Bethlehem… murdered.
The parents fled to Egypt where they lived as refugees for several years. Jesus’ earliest memories were of living in Egypt, among thousands of other refugee families, who also fled the wrath of the Roman Empire. Only when Herod died, was it safe to return to their homeland, settling down in a town called Nazareth.
From this humble beginning would come a child who would grow to show the world how to love, live and forgive. In essence Jesus would show us how to walk in harmony with God and with one’s neighbors. How to become a fully formed person.
This is the story that begins with Christmas. It is a story that transcends commercialism, sentimentality and literal interpretation.
It is a story that is true. A story for our time. A deeply human story with political and societal implications.
The story reminds us that God chose to enter the world in the most humble of ways. To be in solidarity with those on the margins.
Today 20 million of our neighbors live as refugees. The most since the chaos of World war II. Our own government seeks to keep refugees out. What does the Christmas story have to say for a time such as this? What would Jesus have us do?
God entered the world then and enters our world now. This I believe. This is the Spirit of Christmas.