by Rev. Doug Gray
When we moved to Wisconsin from Illinois twenty years ago, we had a couple of problems. First, our oldest child, Morgan, was very worried that Santa wouldn’t be able to find us in time for Christmas. Fortunately, Santa keeps track of these things we told her. No problem. Second, when we got to our new house, Morgan realized that we had no fireplace, and therefore, no chimney. How was Santa going to bring the presents in? Fortunately, Santa is magical and has a plan for that. No problem. Magic makes it easy to explain all sorts of things about Christmas. It’s tempting to take that magical thinking to the Christmas Story—angels seem magical, shepherds are cool, and kings are always impressive. But for those are seeking the true, often hidden, meaning of Christmas, magic fall short of the real wonder of Christmas. Part of that wonder is found in the fathers of Jesus. Yes, fathers, plural, because Jesus has more than one father—God and Joseph—and the hidden meaning of Christmas is found in both.
True Christmas is about courage. Courage? For sure, Joseph needed courage. When Joseph and Mary got engaged, did they start thinking about the future—where they would live and what their life together would be like? And then Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant. Timothy Keller, in his book Hidden Christmas, writes, “Can you imagine Joseph trying to [the people of Nazareth] the truth? ‘Oh, I can explain. She is pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” Imagine the stares. The truth isn’t something his friends will understand and, therefore, they will always think he’s either crazy or gullible.” Joseph has got to have courage.
But we sometimes forget that God had to show courage too. The courage to leave heaven for a stable, to lay aside glory for a diaper, and to find a cross instead of throne. Keller writes, “No other religion has a God who needed courage…Jesus could save us only by facing an agonizing death that had him wrestling in sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane. He became mortal and vulnerable so that he could suffer, be betrayed and killed. He faced all these things for you, and he thought it worth it.” In the last verse of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” we sing “mild he lays His glory by” and we don’t often stop to recognize how mind-blowing that is. Paul writes that,
“…though [Jesus] was in the form of God,
[He] did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
True Christmas is about the courage of both of Jesus’ fathers.
So how do we live a life of courage in the face of a secular world that would really rather have Santa than baby Jesus? First, let us have the courage to embrace the world’s scorn. Like Joseph living with people who think he’s crazy or gullible, let us live of a life of kindness and sacrifice, of believing God can do something great even when all we see is darkness, even if the world is going to laugh about it. Own that for you and me, Jesus matters and God is the foundation of our lives. God is with us!
Second, let us have the courage to surrender our wills to God’s. Did you notice who gets to decide Jesus’ name? In Jewish society, that was the dad’s job. Keller writes, “By refusing to let [Joseph] name Jesus, the angel is saying, ‘If Jesus is in your life, you are not his manager. This child who is about to be born is your manager.’…To become a Christian you are going to have to have the courage to something our culture thinks is absolutely crazy. You are going to have to commit to denying yourself.” Jesus’ name—in Hebrew it’s Yeshua—means “God saves” not you save or I save—God saves. When we surrender what we want to do what God wants, then our lives open up.
Santa is fun. In some ways, Santa reflects the spirit of Christmas, but the real St. Nicholas was a full-on follower of Jesus living around 300AD, who secretly gave a poor family enough money so that their daughters could get married, saving the daughters from a likely life of prostitution. St. Nicholas secretly gave gifts in the middle of the night, so the poor family would not be shamed by the gift. We who seek Jesus give gifts and have courage not because there’s magic, but because God gave Himself to us in Jesus. Where does the power come from to have real courage? It comes from love. You see, God made us to love and to be loved, and before we were born, Jesus was. And when we really get the incredible love God showed in courage by going to the cross, it will rearrange our lives. Christmas is not magic—magic is how humans try to control the world, and magic doesn’t really work. Christmas not a legend—legends are stories we make up. Christmas is a baby “born that we no more may die., born to give us second birth.” God is with us! Merry Christmas!