As a holy day, Christmas celebrates the invasion of the divine into the mundane

It always amazes me how some folks can’t keep a fix on the fact that, in America, Christmas is both a religious holy day and a civic holiday.

For Christian believers, this holy day celebrates the Incarnation, the idea that the human and divine can merge. For others, this secular holiday is a moment to cherish family, friendship and generosity. It’s all good.

But there’s a class of Christian who spots a War on Christmas around every corner. My Christmas wish for them is that they might fret less about keeping Christ in Christmas (which is, after all, a less important holy day than Good Friday or Easter) and more about keeping Christ in their own Christianity.

Who was this guy Jesus? What does it mean to follow him? Well, we have four after-the-fact narratives about him, called Gospels. Each paints a distinct picture.

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But some themes cut across the stories. In all four, Jesus is no fan of … no tool of the established order. He is on fire to unsettle the comfortable and the self-righteous. That, after all, is why they kill him. He is drawn to the poor, the outcast, anyone whom the self-righteous smugly judge.

This Jesus would be the first kid to sit down in the school cafeteria next to the lonely nerd. In the 1980s, he would have been first to volunteer at the AIDS clinic. Today, he would certainly be reaching out to the immigrant and refugee.

He was the Prince of Peace, sure, yet he knew anger had its place. Every once in a while, you have to flip over some tables and make a ruckus, to let the greedy know their day of judgment will come.

Christians call this season Advent, a time to make room in your life for an Incarnation, an invasion of the selfish mundane by the transformative divine.

Me, I love the trappings of civic Christmas, the ornaments, carols, gifts. But I try to carve out time inside the bustle to prepare myself for that invasion. I know I need it.

I need that voice inside my mind and my heart, reminding me, “No, you are not there. You’re not who you need to be. Not yet, not nearly. But keep plugging. I’ll be by your side.” No secular Grinch can prevent me from hearing that voice. If it gets muffled, it’s my fault alone.

Along with the tinsel and the family jokes and the merry parties, that’s the moment of the Christmas season to which I look forward, the moment when that voices washes over me, calm but unforgettable.

Here’s my wish for you this holiday season, that you may have you whatever kind of Christmas you want, or need, it to be.

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