We often use Christmas to bewail our society’s rampant materialism. We rail against shameless television advertisements; we moan about poor church attendance; we cry out against spiritual decay. Frankly, I’m tempted to do the same thing again – because we’re right. Our society is too materialistic; the advertising agencies are shameless; and I do wish everyone would re-member why they find themselves yelling at their kids in shopping malls each winter.
But that would be a waste. Moaning has become part of the Christmas ritual, bundled in the same package as the eggnog, tree-trimmings and Uncle Sal’s weird presents (“Thanks, Sal. I love it. One question: What is it?”). I’d like to break the ritual and share my thoughts. How has the Christmas message touched me?
My thoughts turn to our God, who chose to live as a human being, beginning as a baby. The baby howls at night. He needs food. Mary must change his clothes. Joseph stumbles out of bed in the morning, a bleary-eyed carpenter who wishes his son didn’t wake him up at 3 A.M. My thoughts turn to me: I too was a howling baby who woke up my parents. Our God could empathize with me even then because he had once been an infant. My thoughts turn again to God: He grew up as a boy, experiencing a childhood so normal that the Gospel writers barely mention it. My thoughts turn to myself and my own childhood memories, and then I remember myself as a quivering adolescent, confronted with the reality that I had been a self-pitying ball of mush. But instead of enduring God’s wrath, I found his love. He too had been an adolescent – not an adolescent like me, for Jesus was sinless – but he had been an adolescent nonetheless. His love enveloped me and prompted me to hand my life to Christ.
I remember my subsequent spiritual growth; I remember becoming trapped in a nowhere career; I re-member my loving God releasing the trap. God was always present, nurturing me with the love of someone who had been there. I remember the joys of meeting my future wife and praising God. I remember confronting a potentially fatal illness and the possibility of leaving my new bride a widow. God was with me then; he knew the travails of deep suffering when he was nailed to the cross. His unremitting empathy has remained as we’ve raised a child.
And there lies Christianity’s distinction: We do not worship a God who is merely all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Our God is all those things, but he is more. He has experienced human joy, human pain, human suffering, and human victory. Baffling as it seems, our God not only possesses divinity, he possesses humanity as well.
I’m sure Mary cooed and sung lullabies to Jesus. How often did she contemplate those truths as she rocked him in her lap?
Such are my thoughts this Christmas.