The Potency of Christmas

Warning: if you’re looking for political commentary on Christmas, this isn’t it. But this is far more important.

Most of us have already (or will on Christmas Eve) sat through a reading of the powerful prediction of Isaiah 9:6-7. Or we’ve heard it in song in some classic or modern rendition of Handel’s epic Messiah.

For unto us a child is born.

Unto us a Son is given.

The government will rest upon His shoulders.

His names? Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.

His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice.[1]

Polite and cute fireside stories aside, even of those of the baby Christ in the stable hay, this is the story of Christmas. If history has a pinnacle, it was this: his coming, his death and his resurrection. If it has a climax, this was the start of that chapter. And if it has a culmination, it will be His return.

Yes, its depth and meaning are often best captured in childlike imagination, for Christ scolded his disciples, warning the adults present—those too smart for their own good—that true faith carried a certain innocence and childlike dependency.[2]

But it is, in the end, not a story for the faint of heart. And how we embrace the tale it would begin is the difference between life and death.

And for Christians in the current political climate, it is a higher call than we often make it. To embrace it is far more potent, demanding and rewarding than the cheeky refusal to say “happy holidays” and our swell of pride as we walk away from the cashier register having proudly boasted a “Merry Christmas” in defiance of the cultural trends.

I’m boldly standing up for my faith, we congratulate ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong; any aptitude in this description is the result of personal experience.

But is that extent of our public and verbal boldness?

The story of Christ’s coming into the world is the very cornerstone of history. The colloquial quaintness of his birth story—deeply inspiring though it is—is only the beginning of a life that demands a response. To truly embrace the child in the manger is to also embrace the sobering words he would later speak: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.[3]

Publically. Boldly. Under the sobering reality that “everyone who acknowledges me here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels,” but “anyone who denies me here on earth will also be denied before God’s angels.”[4]

The politically incorrect response to the political correctness around Christmas lies in these little rebellions against culture—the “merry Christmas” reply to “happy holidays,” the refusal to write Xmas[5] and spell out Christ’s name fully (see endnote for the beautiful irony in this!). These are fine—and often very important! Bowing to the culturally correct language is in and of itself worthy of critique and appropriate warning. But the call of Christ goes far beyond. It goes to a boldness that will lead us into scorn, ridicule, possible loss of employment, court, and perhaps even prison and death if we are called (and obey) to places where these are likely outcomes.

Are we committed enough for that? Or will we keep our heads down and try to smother that level of dedication, seeking a delicate balance between being a cheeky Christian, but not so unacceptable as to risk our reputation and careers?

Let’s remember the child, meek and mild, and then move on and remember also to “be thankful and please God by worshipping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.”[6] The child born was the “visible image” of this awesome, powerful “invisible God.” He was the one through whom “God created everything.”[7] He is the “one who mediates the new covenant between God and people.”[8] The one who, in the end, “will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power,” and having reigned “until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet.”[9]

The one for whom Mary cried out, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord! … He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.”[10]

The one who will “rule with fairness and justice” and whose government’s “peace will never end.”[11]

The one who we who believe and obey will worship for eternity: “worth is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!”[12]

At Christmas—and then throughout the year—, are we going to take half-hearted measures to find a nice balance between our affiliation with this King of kings and cultural respectability? Or will we, as necessary, proclaim boldly, as his cousin John did, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” …?[13]

This is the only true and lasting government. This is the true King we serve, and the incredible, powerful, challenging, potent, awesome, no-middle-ground message of Christmas.

[1] Taken from Isaiah 9:6-7

[2] Matthew 18:2-4

[3] Luke 9:23 (italics mine)

[4] Luke 12:8-9

[5] Ironically, for those who think they are cleverly eliminating Christ from the word Christmas with the shortened X-mas, X is the Greek symbol for the name of Christ. So the joke’s on them.

[6] Hebrews 12:28b-29

[7] Colossians 1:15-16

[8] Hebrews 12:24

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:23-25

[10] Luke 1:46-52

[11] Ibid endnote 1.

[12] Revelation 5:12

[13] John 1:29

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