We watched a Christmas special recently that weaved a tale that would present the ‘real meaning of Christmas,’ which for that screenwriter was “caring for one another.” People of all faiths and traditions may tire of the commercialism that drives modern Christmas, and even regret the need to shop and travel and attend endless holiday events. They look for deeper meaning (but not too deep). It is valuable, in the modern view, to use Christmas to draw out charitable sentiments, peaceful notions, and reconciliation and neighborliness. Those are wonderful accomplishments, of course, but unfortunately thin and temporary contributions of the Christmas season. Even Christians attempt to build the meaning of a holy day by embellishing and dramatizing the story of Mary and Joseph and the events surrounding Jesus’s birth, to make it a more powerful narrative.
But even the Christmas story of Luke 2 is not the meaning of Christmas, as Charles Shultz (and Linus) suggested in the wonderful little Charlie Brown Christmas movie.
One of the names of Jesus carries the meaning of his arrival, of Christmas. He will be called Immanuel, the angels tells the shepherds. Immanuel is translated God With Us, but it means so much more than our best wishes that God will accompany someone and direct their lives. Immanuel means that in a move far more dramatic than a bright star or a visit by the magi, the God of eternity, the omniscient and omnipotent God, sparked a divine revolution that would end the alienation between God and his creation. The Christmas miracle is the dramatic move of the Trinity to give people for all time the chance to experience life beyond sin and a life of abundant hope. God the Father determined to change all of human history and to reconcile the human race with the Divine by having God the Son take the form and the life of a human; the human embryo was conceived by the God the Spirit, borne by a human woman, and born as a human baby.
At Christmas we celebrate the inspiration, the conception, and the birth of the God-Child. We celebrate an event that changed everything; an event that began a revolution that would include the life and teaching of an earthly Jesus; a ghastly, sin-bearing death; and the resurrection of his human life and redemption made possible for all life. Without Christmas, God cannot be with us, because of the alienation of our spoiled human race.
Immanuel makes possible our lives and our future promise, and the hope for all generations. Now that is a great story, worthy of celebration.