I love Christmas. I love the surprises. I love the scents. I love the giving (and, I must admit, the getting). I love the decorations and the music and the events that are unique to the rest of the year. I love Advent calendars and I love the general feeling that this is a special time. Something is different. This is a time set apart to celebrate.
Spiritually speaking, to be “set apart” is to be sanctified. To be holy. And indeed, the very best thing about Christmas is that it’s a holy season, a season to step back from the usual and focus on Jesus.
And I don’t just mean the baby Jesus. That cute little infant in the paintings; the Jesus of the nativity scenes and Sunday School programs and youthful memories. No, the Jesus I mean is the grown-up Jesus. The Jesus who has hard teachings. The Jesus who threw out the baby with the bathwater when it came to following rules and obeying the traditional law. The Jesus who gave up his right to be right, humanly speaking, because he knew he was right, spiritually speaking.
That Jesus is harder to embrace. That Jesus is rejected. That Jesus is spat upon by Romans, Ancient Hebrews, and modern day philosophers, be they suit-clad in higher institutions or blanket-clad in gutters…or flannel-clad in cozy homes and offices and check-out counters and yoga class.
That’s the Jesus the little baby turned into.
I know that Easter is the “hard Jesus” season. The season with the brutal images and the repentant sinners, hanging upon their various crosses. But the truth is, I want to live my Christmas in the far-reaching shadow of Golgatha, because that’s what this sanctified season is truly all about. The baby came because the man was going to die. He knew that from day one. From minute, from second one. He didn’t come into this knowledge as an adult, he told his parents as a 12 year old, “didn’t you know I needed to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). They didn’t fully understand, yet we know that Mary, “treasured up all these things in her heart” (vrs. 51). All the little things. The annunciation: “you’re going to have a miraculous baby”; the telling of her news to Joseph: “Surprise!”; the birth in a stable, the shepherds and angels and eventual Magi; the growing-up years; the ultimate revelation of who he was at the wedding at Cana; the final days and hours and minutes, standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die for the wicked world which did not understand.
Those are the moments she treasured up. It didn’t matter that she didn’t really “get it”. What mattered was that she treasured. She contemplated. She put two and two and one million little things together and came up with belief in a man who was the Savior of the World. Belief that this human being, whom she had birthed, was also God. Deity incarnate. The Devine human.
Sanctified. Set apart. Holy.
And so, I live in that holy shadow at Christmas. Yes, I love the season. Santa Claus, candy-cane-stripes, presents, songs about red-nosed reindeer. But the reason I love it all is because it has been made holy by the presence of the man upon the cross. The man who forgave — and continues to forgive — me of my many sins. And, equally true, who forgives you of yours.
Merry Christmas, dear friends. May the joy and the shadow co-exist in your celebrations this season, pointing you to the one who loves you more than you can possibly imagine.