I am alone on Christmas for the first time in my life. I’ve always been surrounded by the people who have made me who I am. This year I said goodbye to Hannah and Kai Christmas morning as they traveled to be with her family. My family – like every year – has gathered in Oregon. And I have gladly stayed in Houston with Chubs.
I mention this, because I can’t read the Christmas story this year as being just about Christmas. I’ve been swamped by how many people are a part of the Christmas story that make it what it is. Beth, Zach, John, Mary, Joe, the shepherds, the wise men, the angels, Simeon, Anna. Without them, there is no Christmas. They are the Christmas people, who say yes to God, and in doing so birth the light into our world. Without them there would have been no Christ.
And I love the way that Luke defines the Christmas people: they are the ones who see Jesus for who he is! Like the shepherds who “watch” their sheep then give thanks for what they have “seen” at the manger, Simeon and Anna are “looking” for salvation, and find it in the Christ child. Peace, salvation, healing, hope, shalom, wholeness, enough (See Psalm 72:7, Isaiah 2:1-4, 9:5-6). These are the promises the Christmas people saw coming true in Jesus. Zechariah, Mary, and today Simeon sing about the centrality of Jesus for the way of peace. And so these people both birthed, and were birthed by the Christmas story.
But like Simeon’s predictions about Jesus in 2:34-35, there are those in the story who obviously do not see. The innkeeper, for instance, and the priests in charge of circumcision and sacrifice (See Luke 2:21-24) are only present between the lines, they aren’t even mentioned as characters! Somehow they miss the true meaning, they don’t see. Likewise, Herod in Matthew wants to see Jesus, but only for destruction. I wonder how well I see? Do I allow Christ to be Christ? Or must I box him in a safe, agreeable way? Am I part of the Christmas people, willing and wanting to birth peace and hope in our world? Or am I focused only on myself?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that as amazing as the Incarnation is, that’s not all Christmas is. It is also about the Christmas people that made the story possible. It is the celebration of those who say yes to God, then sit back and watch Christ be birthed into our world. We, like the characters in the story, sit around the manger bug-eyed with excitement for news of Christ’s arrival. We too are a Christmas people. We know the story and gather around the manger, we worship the child become Lord, we sing the songs and long for the salvation. We are a Christmas people.
To be faithful to Christmas, we not only celebrate the birth of Jesus as incarnation, we also must equally celebrate the birth of Jesus as regeneration and new life in us. Like the song says, “Christ is born today.” Our world does not hunger for right theology, the intricacies of God made man. Our world hungers for the grace-filled existence lived by the Christmas community who have themselves experienced the new life in Christ. Peter said, “By his great mercy God has given us a new birth into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).” Likewise, Paul says “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20).” And “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness; … and his Spirit dwells in you (Romans 8:10-11).”
This Christmas, I celebrate the birth of Jesus into our world, all those years ago. But this Christmas, I also celebrate Jesus community, those who made Christmas possible. And more than anything, I celebrate that Christ is born today in hearts, homes, and congregations around the world. I wait with eagerness to see what Christ will birth in our midst? What forms of peace and good news will be born out of us in the new year? What shape will the love of Christ have in our hearts and community?
Houston Mennonite Church, we are a Christmas people. May Christ be born in us today!