“Always winter and never Christmas.” That was the curse of the white witch in Narnia, the sad state of affairs at the opening of Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m thankful to say that it is, at last, Christmas, because despite the fact that it was 74 degrees today, it has felt like winter to many of us: the world feels a little cold, barren, bereft of grace. There’s no less graceful exercise in American culture than a presidential race; the Middle East is on fire and moments of terror have gotten almost common. Hungary erected a fence along its southern border to stop the flow of Syrian refugees, which really only led to Slovenia and Croatia putting up fences themselves. It appears that good fences do not make good neighbors. It all adds up, in an awful arithmetic, to being always winter and never Christmas.
And yet, just a couple days ago, Doan and I were on our way home from buying our tree, and we saw a little boy, maybe 8 years old, getting off his school bus. He rounded the corner the bus and with arms in the air and hands waving, he ran screaming in jubilation (Yaaaaaaassssss!) toward his house. Why? Because Christmas.
It wasn’t always so. “Long before anyone thought to celebrate Christmas, Christians celebrated the Incarnation on March 25 — exactly nine months ago — with the feast of the Annunciation. That is the principal feast of God becoming man, because that is in fact when God became man and changed everything. And if you don’t think this is a big deal, think about this: it’s not just that God the Son became a full-grown man who could act in god-like ways; that is not all that far-fetched to many of us. The truly weird and awkward thing is that God the Son became, for a time, a cluster of little cells in someone’s uterus — something so inconsequential and unnoticeable (almost awkward). When they spoke of the Incarnation, of God becoming man, Christmas was the last thing on their mind.”1
I wonder, then, why St. Luke was so enthralled with Christmas, the story of Christ’s birth. Luke leads up to Jesus’ birth with two solid chapters of prophecy; in cinematic terms, there’s lots of build-up to the moment. He even sets the scene, anchoring it in time (In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria), and place (Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem). But then Luke gets small for a moment, he zooms in, he reflects the intimacy of the what happened (she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn).
I think Luke loved to recount the Christmas story because in that moment, that intimate moment in that barn two thousand years ago, God Himself was revealed to us. All the waiting, the thousands of years of the faithful calling out for him, the seemingly endless nine-months Mary carried Him around, in that moment the waiting came to an end, and the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Him that night.
I think Luke loved Christmas because after years of being oppressed by forces too large to defeat, years of overwhelming darkness, years of it always being winter, the world could finally set eyes and lay hands of the salvation of the world, and in God’s peculiar sense of humor, that salvation was a baby.
The world is, of course, still not okay. There are, plainly, forces bent on dominating us from within and from without. That’s because Christmas is not God’s stamp of approval on all human existence. “Nor is it that God has arrived to solve all our problems in a flash. Rather it is that God the Son has chosen to take all our pain, our humanity, seriously…” He has chosen to be with us through wars and rumors of war; with us through the awful arithmetic; with us through winter. “God in Christ is with us. It doesn’t matter where we are, what we’ve done, what we’ve experienced: he’s there. He’s not there to to tell us how great we already are or to give us a vague message about how everything happens for a reason: he’s just there, and he’s not going away.”2
That’s the good news of God in Christ Jesus: that Jesus is with us always, no matter what. So it seems the white witch had it half right: it might be always winter, but it’s also always Christmas. Merry Christmas everybody.
1The Rev. Samuel Keyes, http://archive.theadventboston.org/sermons/sk122412.htm