Merry Christmas, everybody, great to see everybody tonight. Christmas is my favorite holy day, really; I love the lights and the greens and how the city looks all decorated. I love watching Santa roll past on the firetruck, which in our case is a 1947 open-cab, double-clutch Mack pumper, a model of which my wife gave me a couple years ago on, you guessed it, Christmas. There’s not much I don’t love about Christmas, but I do get tired of people attempting to defend Christmas from what can be seen as threats from within and without. I’m ready for the War on Christmas to be over; to stop hearing that I must keep Christ in Christmas. I hear that one a lot, to keep Christ in Christmas, and we should do that – you are all here doing just that – but perhaps this year we should really be focusing on is keeping Christmas in Christ.
You see, Christmas is a dangerous holiday, which is why we do our best to smooth it out, to take the rough edges off of it; as much as I love Christmas, sometimes it’s just easier to look at Jimmy Stewart or Frosty the Snowman than to look at the Son of the living God as a baby. It’s too much a risk, for us and for God.
“In the research, two-thirds of the participants said that we’re reconciled with God by our own initiative and then God responds to our initiative with grace. So, we first seek God out and only then does God’s mercy and forgiveness become operative in our lives. This has its own internal logic based on Enlightenment constructs of individualism, fairness, and reciprocity (the old quid pro quo, as it were). It makes sense to us. It sounds like it should be the way God works. It has a certain truthiness to it, as Stephen Colbert might say.”1
That truthiness “brings us to the 5th century Englishman, Pelagius. Yes, he was a Brit, so we Anglicans have to claim him. He’s in our spiritual family tree. He’s like that crazy great uncle we have that no one in the family wants to acknowledge, but own him we must. Pelagius contended that humans first choose God by their own personal gumption. Our sin, original or otherwise, did not, according to Pelagius, impair our ability to choose wisely by choosing God. In other words, we must choose to appropriate the benefits of God’s grace through the power of our own will.
“This came to be known as Pelagianism. Two Church councils, first in 418 A.D. at Carthage and then in Ephesus in 431 A.D., rightly rejected Pelagianism. A century later a spinoff of Pelagianism, known rather non-creatively as Semi-Pelagianism, became popular. This sought to affirm the orthodox teaching about humanity’s original sin, while at the same time still insisting that we must take the initiative for God’s grace to be operative. In 529, the Council of Orange said “nice try Semi-Pelagianists,” and rejected their views.”2
I think this is where Christmas makes its mark. Christmas is proof that Pelagius was wrong: God isn’t sitting out there in space somewhere like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, hiding behind the moon lest He be bothered by His own creation. He isn’t a cosmic motivational speaker telling us to buck up and maybe someday we can be just like Him.
In fact, Christmas is the repudiation of all of that. If Christmas has a meaning, it’s that God loves us so much that He isn’t willing to wait for us to make the first move. Christmas means that God isn’t a milquetoast old man in the sky who hopes we might notice how nice He is. Christmas means that God is willing to be with us as we are, in a world in which we need a reminder that black lives matter, that blue lives matter, that babies’ lives matter. Christmas means that God is willing to risk actually being a baby so that He can be with us, and so that we can be with Him.
That’s a dangerous kind of love, my friends, and that makes Christmas a dangerous holiday. And so what it means to keep Christmas in Christ is to remember that Jesus not only died for us but was in the womb for us, He was born for us, He went through the awkward teenage years for us, He was and is risky and real and present for us. I wish all of you a risky, real, and very merry Christmas.
1The Rt Revd Scott Anson Benhase is the X Bishop of Georgia.