Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Christmas Means to Me

In the midst of the annual chaos that has become a trademark of this time of year, it's important for each of us to ask ourselves, "What does Christmas really mean to me?" Is it just a time for delicious food, sweet deals at all of the stores, and the chance to get my hands on the latest gadget or other gift that I'm hoping to receive? The "real meaning of Christmas" has been at the forefront of my mind, so I'd like to share my thoughts here. 

First and foremost, I see Christmas as a celebration of the turning point in God's great narrative of Creation. The birth of Jesus Christ in history marks the beginning of the climax in "the greatest story ever told." God's story has the most epic plot twist, but unlike other plot twists, which involve unexpected encounters between the characters in the story, this twist involves an unexpected encounter between the characters and the author. Peter Kreeft pointed out this idea in his talk, "Shocking Beauty," when he made an analogy between the story of Creation and The Lord of the Rings:  "Imagine Frodo Baggins meeting, not Gandalf, not Aragorn, but Tolkien; Macbeth meeting, not King Duncan, not Macduff, but Shakespeare." This is exactly what did happen almost two thousand years ago, when God, the divine author of all Creation, seeing that we were helpless against our enemy, sin, wrote himself into his own story as the human character of Jesus Christ. 

This is what separates Christianity from every other religion, namely, that the truth of it rests entirely on historical claims. If the Jewish prophets never actually foretold a coming Messiah, then no one would have recognized Jesus as someone special, since moral teachers and all types of gurus were extremely common during that time. If Jesus never actually taught his apostles everything contained in the Gospels, then there would be no Christianity. If the Resurrection never actually happened, then thousands of early Christians wouldn't have been willing to endure persecution, torture, and death at the hands of their Roman oppressors. Obviously, all of these historical claims depend on the fact that Jesus really existed, that he was actually born into the world at a point in history.

While all of this is certainly important, knowing that Jesus existed is not what Christmas itself is all about, and certainly not what Christmas means to me. I would argue that, rather than being primarily about the fact that God entered into his Creation, Christmas is more about celebrating the way in which God chose to enter Creation. While the theological concept of the Incarnation may seem somewhat abstract and difficult to understand, the birth of a tiny baby boy to a teenage girl in a little town in Israel is simple, concrete, and beautiful. That is why the same simple hymns bring joy to our hearts and tears to our eyes year after year. "Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!"

Christmas is the annual retelling of the greatest story ever told: We are lost sheep, and the Shepard has come. Let's pray that we may all experience the birth of Jesus as a concrete event, one that changes our hearts and the way we view the world. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, "The one who has hope lives differently." Hope is exactly what we have when we live the reality of Christmas. Emmanuel! God is with us!

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer 

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