There are now, and long have been, two variations on the Christmas theme. There is the version in which Christmas is a largely commercial enterprise. At its best, this version of Christmas is an exercise in generosity and an opportunity to turn away from professional pursuits and remember the fundamental importance of family. At its worst, it is an unseemly weeks-long binge of expenditure and acquisition, an exercise in rank consumerist materialism, where we do not celebrate the power of God so much as we observe and demonstrate our faith in the power of advertising and credit cards.
The other version of Christmas commemorates the entrance of an eternal God into the whirl of time and history, a God who is Spirit and Love into a world of flesh and violence, a God who became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who came to provide the Way and the Truth and the Life for all humankind.
It is this latter version of Christmas on which I wish to reflect. What does it mean? Today, here and now, what is the significance of Christmas? Why has the church over the centuries cultivated this celebration of the birth of Christ? What do the birth narratives, and the very fact of God’s incarnation in Christ, communicate to the world? I will suggest four things: