Remembering Christmas: How You Can Incarnate Christ For The Holidays
Inevitably, come each December, Christians experience the “war” on Christmas. An ostensible form of oppression seemingly pushing us ever so precariously toward the edge of a slippery slope—leading directly toward the extinction of religious freedom, as we currently know it. Donald Trump and the conservative media flood our ears with a call-to-arms, “Proclaim Merry Christmas!” And many are only too happy to oblige. The utterance “Happy Holidays” becomes pejorative, a proverbial four-letter word. “Christ is the reason for the season,” we are told.
But, what does that mean? Doubtless, Christ is the reason for the season; but what does that look like? Does it mean taking a stance against red cups, or taking offense to those proclaiming happy holidays, or something different—something more?
While Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, Christmas does not compel us to extol only the birth of Christ. We also champion peace on earth and good will toward humankind. We, at times, offer gifts to those we dislike and pay-it-forward at the grocery line; we celebrate the spirit of Christmas, which raises the question, “What is the spirit of Christmas?”
The answer seems obvious: Christ.
But this raises another question: What does it look like for one to both embrace and live out the spirit of Christmas?
Making Christ the “reason for the season” is to make Christ’s ministry a reality both in your life and the lives of others. It means sharing your food with the hungry and giving shelter to the homeless. It means giving clothes to those in need and not hiding from troublesome relatives (cf. Isa 58). It means freeing yourself from a haze of indifference that muddies the reality of white privilege, social injustice, racism, and misogyny. It means shedding a worldview that equates poverty with laziness and delegitimizes the cries of abused women. It means seeking out the downtrodden and “opening wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor” (Deut 15:11). It also means offering more than mere “thoughts and prayers.” It means working to assuage the sufferings that often give rise to our proclamations of “thoughts of prayers.”
Making Christ the reason for the season means, in part, serving, as best as one can, as Christ served.
Is such a momentous task even possible?
Consider the book of Exodus, for example, which displays God bringing Israel out of bondage not through an overwhelming act of divine power but rather through the commissioning of a single individual: Moses. “Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt” (Ex 3:9-10 NLT). This passage represents merely one of many examples in which God answers the prayers of His people through the works of normal human beings like you and me.
Considering this, the argument could be made: you are meant to be the answer to the poor man’s prayer for money. You are meant to be the answer to the starving man’s cries to God for a meal. You are meant to be the answer to the cries for justice by people of color across the country. Thus, the unanswered prayers of the downtrodden, as I see them, are not God’s failures so much as they are our failures.
Notice what making Christ the reason for the season does not mean: it does not mean demanding others proclaim, “Merry Christmas,” nor does it mean bashing coffee companies or (dare I say) going to church. It means meeting both the spiritual and physical needs of others. Merely thinking and praying about the downtrodden will not help them; offering trite aphorisms and feel-good Facebook posts will not help them. Demanding that one attend church more often or pray harder or work harder or report abuse sooner or be a better (fill in the blank) does not extol Christ as the “reason for the season.” And to champion such things alone is to place oneself in the company of the men Jesus spoke of in Matthew 23: 4-6 when he stated, “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. On their arms, they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra-long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues.”
Christ did not debate the merits of giving free food to the hungry; he fed them. Christ did not ask the sick to pay their share; he healed them. Moreover, the Bible does not extol rugged individualism but rather proclaims power amid community (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Therefore, when awakening Christmas morning and considering what changes to implement in the New Year, consider really making Christ the reason for the season. Follow a POC activist, read outside your bubble, listen to those with whom you disagree, and love those deemed unlovable.
Christmas need not have a monopoly on Christ or even the Christmas spirit. Indeed, Christ is the reason for every season, and to fight for Christ is not to fight over ridiculous red cups and silly salutations. Rather, it is a call to fight for what God fought—and ultimately died—for: this planet, the animals, and, perhaps most importantly, those who do not have the luxury of ignoring the subject of their own discrimination.
Merry Christmas, and may your New Year be filled with the Christmas spirit.
First edition published by Rekindling Ministries