Christmas – The Magic Amid the Muddle
By Jonathan Buck
Maybe Christmas was a great idea when the early church fathers in Rome invented it as an antidote, a way to tame the mad partying in Rome but today…so much of it seems a monumental muddle.
It’s a strange mix of ancient and modern, like finding Jesus in a nativity scene alongside Santa Claus in a Coca-Cola suit, and a sacred Christian holiday being celebrated in much the same manner as the heathen festival Christians wanted to “tame” originally by celebrating the Coming of Christ.
It’s an odd jumble of opposites, too. Giving increases for worthy causes, but massive spending on useless junk. ’Tis the season for pleasing others, but also the biggest excuse all year for bloating oneself to the bursting point. It tickles heart strings while straining purse strings; it keeps the economy growing while encouraging personal debt, and it catches you humming those familiar songs while wishing the silly season was over.
Keeping our Focus
And who is it really all about, Jesus or Santa, our kids or the child of God? The sacred and the secular are so intertwined nowadays, it’s a wonder Christians don’t separate themselves from Christmas all together. On the other hand, Christmas still magically transforms entire communities into nicer, kinder, gentler places for a season. It’s an amazing phenomenon seeing people with no interest in God suddenly acting all warm and fuzzy and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about a Christian feast with Medieval rituals such as bell-ringing and caroling dragging them out in huge numbers in the middle of winter every year.
In a modern culture like ours it’s hard to explain. Unless, that is, the prophecy in Isaiah 9:7 really did kick in when Jesus was born, because that would certainly explain it. “Of the increase of God’s kingdom and peace there is no end,” as the prophecy states, and the continued thriving of Christmas is remarkable proof of it. Even with the politically correct brigade trying to bury Christmas in meaningless terms like a “festive season of giving,” Christmas as a Christian holiday keeps on happening and it still packs a punch in the peace and goodwill department. It can still melt the anger of hardened criminals, stop the bullets flying between deadly enemies, and for a moment or two it even unites Christians.
A Glimpse of a Better World
Christmas is a powerful influence in our world, and in many ways offers just the hope we need that what began with Jesus is true, that peace really is on its way. It doesn’t seem possible the rest of the year, but at Christmas-time it does, because something happens in December that doesn’t happen at any other time. The atmosphere changes; a truce descends upon the land and we discover the pleasure all over again of giving, chatting with strangers, helping the unfortunate, resolving conflicts, and even going to church.
For a few brief moments every year the elements of peace are in place and we get a glimpse of what’s possible, of a better, kinder world, of God’s world, not ours. It’s all still a monumental muddle, yes, but in amongst the muddle there’s a hint of magic, of something else going on that reaches beyond human invention, of God himself reassuring his weary children that peace and goodwill are not only possible, they’re guaranteed. And without that little taste of magic, where would we be?
Beyond the Mundane
What hope does our world offer otherwise to a single Mother up to her eyebrows in debt and despair, or to a man who hates his job, hates where he lives, hates what’s happening to his kids, hates getting older and fatter and knows he’s stuck in a rat hole ’til he dies? Well, there isn’t any hope, is there for millions like them, living out the daily grind without much of anything to look forward to each day but more of the same. But along comes Christmas again, and with it a ray of hope that this life isn’t all there is, and maybe something wonderful really did begin when Jesus was born. The evidence is there, all right, of something incredible happening every year that ties in exactly with what God said would happen with the birth of his Son. “Peace on those upon whom his favor rests.” Muddle or magic, call it what you will, Christmas is still a singular and somewhat astonishing time of year…after 1700 years no less.
The world seems to really need Christmas, from troops resting their rifles in the Middle East against an ancient mud-brick wall in Iraq enjoying a hot meal cooked by loving hands to countless millions shipped into homeless shelters (usually churches). There’s a lot of good going on amid the muddle! But you have to know where to look.
It’s not only a peek into what’s possible, it’s also a glimpse of another world in the making, and of a God who is real and true to those who continue to seek him.
So, Merry Christmas everyone.
Jonathan Buck is a GCI pastor in Ontario, Canada.