Thoughts from Brian: Which Christmas?

December 18, 2017
Thoughts from Brian: Which Christmas?

There are two ways of celebrating Christmas: looking backwards and looking forwards. There are only two accounts of the birth of Jesus in scripture in Matthew and Luke. Matthew emphasizes how Jesus is born as a very Jewish Messiah coming in fulfillment of Jewish prophecies, especially those of Isaiah. Matthew spends about twice as much ink laying out Jesus’ genealogy as the whole story of his birth. Luke on the other hand is all about change in the future beginning with Mary’s song of rebellion against empire and wealth that we call the Magnificat. Luke’s portrayal emphasizes surprise, radical change, and a complete reversal of the expected order of things. Luke also has lots of people singing: Mary, Zechariah, and the angels.

So, do you celebrate Christmas looking backwards or forwards?

Our culture is firmly committed to looking backwards. Christmas is a celebration of nostalgia and tradition. It is a time for old recipes and heirloom ornaments. It is a time to remember old hopes and dreams. And of course, Christmas is all those things. But focused on the past, Christmas is safe, docile, inoffensive, and a willing accomplice for materialism, consumerism, and greed. Of course, you are not supposed to look too far back  You are not supposed to check out all those ancient prophecies that Jesus will fulfill. For secular culture it is best to just leave it with a charming nativity crèche and not ask what this birth means.

Luke does not permit such nostalgia. Luke is all about revolution and God’s invasion of time. Mary, upon hearing of the impending birth, sings out a song of insurrection against the powers of this age knowing that the birth of this child begins God’s invasion of history and the transformation of everything we have ever known. Old Zechariah, though blind to the world, clearly sees what this child means and the change he will bring.

Do you celebrate Christmas backwards or forwards? What kind of Messiah are you looking for and what kind of Messiah do you get?  Is Christmas about memory or hope or both? With Mary, these are the things we ponder in our hearts in the midwinter night.