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What Christmas Really Means

What is Christmas? Is it like Thanksgiving – a holiday to eat good food, enjoy family, and rest from labor? Is it a time to go just a little farther into debt, buying presents and celebrating Santa Claus?

Is Christmas a solstice celebration? A myth of elves and flying reindeer? A time to re-affirm religious orthodoxy?

For those who experienced the first Noël, the birth of Jesus was a political revolution. In a world dominated by the imperial might of Caesar and brutalized by petty dictators like Herod, Jesus arrived as the anti-Caesar.

God’s messiah was born to reign with justice. This was a moment the Hebrew people had been anticipating for generations. And he’s homeless. He’s born in a cow stall and found lying in a feed trough. He’s attended by migrant farm workers and outsiders from foreign lands. These are people who could never expect to be invited to the natal celebration of a Caesar, but they are first to witness the good news of Christmas.

Christmas is a time for joy, but not the joy the world gives. It’s not primarily a time for celebrating family – as wonderful as family is. It’s not a moment to focus on exchanging gifts, or anticipating the arrival of Santa down the chimney. For those of us who choose to follow the baby Jesus, Christmas invites us to anticipate the total reordering of society. The newborn king is about to shake everything up.

Christmas is a revolution. It’s a time when the last becomes first, and the first last. It’s a moment when God’s power shines through in the weakness of a tiny child. Christmas is a sign for those who live on the margins, a reminder that real glory shines through those who are outsiders in this world.

Christmas is a promise for all of us: We don’t have to settle for this broken, unjust world of domination and despair. There is another world waiting for us, on the edge of what we think is real. It’s in this world that we find a homeless family, a crew of migrant farm workers, some dangerous foreigners, and the little baby Jesus under the starlight, preparing themselves for the struggle ahead.

Oh, come let us adore him! But to do so, we’re going to have to head to the wrong side of the tracks. Jesus lives in the neighborhood where respectable middle class folks are afraid to visit. Jesus lives in the fields with the undocumented workers. Jesus is with the refugees, even today.

Will this be the Christmas that we accept the invitation? This holiday season, will we finally leave the comfort of the inn and join our savior on the streets? Will this be the year we hear the victory announcement of Jesus’ birth, and respond?

Related Posts:

Jesus Commands You to Welcome Refugees

3 Radical Spiritual Practices for the New Year

  • Jim Breiling

    “Oh, come let us adore him! But to do so, we’re going to have to head to the wrong side of the tracks. Jesus lives in the neighborhood where respectable middle class folks are afraid to visit. Jesus lives in the fields with the undocumented workers. Jesus is with the refugees, even today.”
    Written and read where?

    • Sorry, Jim. I don’t understand the question.

  • David William McKay

    Sorry Micah, but talk of the “real meaning of Christmas” no matter how well-intentioned is part of the noise of Christmas for me. We cannot privilege the meaning given to the ancient near eastern peasants who first heard the story of the shepherds in Luke or the astrologers in Matthew. The “real meaning” of Christmas is the meaning we perform by our participation in the modern practice of Christmas. If I wear a little button saying “Jesus is the reason for the season” but throw myself into the shopping frenzy in order to keep members of my family happy, then the real meaning for me, is keeping my family happy despite my protestations otherwise. Which of course means there’s multiple real meanings and most of us are engaged in paradoxical and contradictory performances around that.