The Real Gift of Christmas

Botticelli's Nativity

Christmas gets a lot of attention every year, and much has been said about what it means. But the most important thing to remember about Christmas is that it is real: God actually became a human baby, Jesus. It’s perhaps too easy to think about the “meaning of Christmas” and to slip into a way of thinking that is all about ideas: Christmas as a symbol of peace and joy, Christmas as a celebration of family, Christmas as the giving of gifts. Indeed, Christmas is all these things. But above all, Christmas is an event: something that really happened, in a specific place at a specific time.

This may make Christmas a little uncomfortable: it isn’t merely what we want it to be, it is what it is, like it or not, take it or leave it. Yes, God became a baby, complete with burps, wails and diapers, even if that is unseemly. Jesus is born in a stable, not a temple or a palace, and laid in a manger, not a crib. Angels announce his birth to shepherds in the fields, not religious or political leaders. In his infancy, he and his family become refugees, fleeing their country for their lives. This is pretty unusual behavior for a deity.

But this is God: he isn’t what we think he should be, he isn’t limited to what seems fitting or proper to us, he is who he is, and does what he does. We can accept or reject it, but there it is, none the less.

Muslims and Jews protest: “Blasphemy! How can God become an ordinary human being, a gurgling baby! God is great, far above human beings; visits to earth to mingle with humans is the stuff of pagan myth.” To this, I answer: God is indeed great, and he shows great love. Perhaps this love is more important for understanding God than his power or his loftiness? Let God be God, look at what he does, even if it is unexpected or unusual, and learn from him.

Atheists protest: “Nonsense! Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence! How can God make himself known through some sketchily documented historical event over two thousand years ago! It’s all myth.” To this, I answer: God is real, and he is personal. While he declines to visit the laboratory to be studied, and does not give press conferences, perhaps he reveals himself none the less, in the manner he chooses? Let God be God, look at what he does, and learn about him from the evidence he chooses to provide.

Indeed, if Christmas shows us anything about God, it shows that God acts in unexpected ways. We need to pay attention to what happens. This is news, not myth. Indeed, the word Gospel, the word Christians use to describe the books of the bible where the life of Jesus is told, does not mean “eternal principles” or “lofty ideas”, it means “good news”. Not that there are no principles or ideas here: there are plenty, but they are secondary: facts come first.

This is really quite important, because it means that if we let God be God, accepting him for who he is and paying careful attention to what he does, we can learn who he really is and what he is really like. If we do this, we will notice something: God is truly good, and he cares about and loves us. This is why this little baby Jesus, God become a human being, born in a stable’s feeding trough, visited by animal herders, this little refugee, is truly extraordinary. Here is God, come in person into human history, to show us all how much he loves us. Yes, this is unexpected and unconventional. But if we look carefully, if we pay attention with an open heart, we will recognize this as something astounding, life-changing and transformative: the real gift of Christmas is God himself.

© 2018, Agapios Theophilus

Agapios Theophilus

Agapios Theophilus

Agapios Theophilus is the "nom de plume" of a catholic layman who has loved Jesus from when, as a young boy in the 1970s, he first learned about him. His First Communion, at the age of seven, was the happiest day of his life, and he celebrates its anniversary each year. He lives in a large city with his beloved wife, two wonderful children, and an affectionate orange and white cat. He has no formal qualifications whatsoever to write about Jesus: he writes only because he has been given the great gift of knowing and loving him, and he would like others to come to know and love him too. Follow Agapios on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/a9apios

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