Monday, December 27, 2010

The Reason for the Season

I continued my Christmas tradition this week of attending the Christmas services of a church besides my own. I love Christmas and the feeling of unity with all of Christendom as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I love the images of Christ, the beautiful music and the sermons and sharing that special spirit of Christmas, even with perfect strangers. There were a couple of things that really stood out to me at the service that I would like to share.

The pastor spoke (of course) about Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, their search for a place to stay and the birth of Jesus Christ in the stable. And then he gave a beautiful metaphor, one of my favorites. From Luke 2: "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger". A manger, or a feeding trough for animals. One of the most humble places imaginable, and yet perfectly symbolic of the Savior. Jesus himself said (John 6:51) "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." The baby Jesus was laid in the feeding trough, seemingly unfit for the Redeemer of the world, and yet incredibly fitting. He is indeed the Bread of Life; only by partaking of him and his grace can we be saved.

And then were uttered the seven words I never expected to hear at a Christmas service:

Jesus ISN'T the reason for the season.

In all fairness, I didn't completely disagree with what came next. It was just missing the crucial element.

He relayed a story about a British couple in Africa who had adopted a baby hippo and explained how when that hippo grew up, it couldn't be released back into the wild because it had quite literally forgotten how to be a hippo. This part is important. He said that Jesus isn't the reason for the season: We are. He taught that humankind had forgotten how to be hospitable, tolerant, compassionate; in short, human, and that Christ was born to teach us and remind us how to be all those things.

It's clearly not untrue. Christ is our ultimate example for all good things: He teaches us love, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, charity, hope, and faith. He taught us how to pray, how to fast, how to treat our neighbors. But the prophets taught these qualities and attributes as well (although of course Christ is the perfect example). He was indeed born for us, but not just to teach us how to be hospitable and compassionate. Saying that this is WHY Christ came to the earth ignores his primary purpose. In Mark 8:31, Jesus taught the disciples that "that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Christ did for us what none of us could do for ourselves. He suffered the pains of hell and died on the cross that each one of us might be able to have eternal life with our Father in Heaven. The Atonement of Christ is the real reason for Christmas. Perhaps this sounds more like Easter than Christmas, but the two are inseparably connected.

I am grateful for this knowledge, that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of the virgin Mary. That He taught us the way to perfection, that He was our exemplar and our elder Brother. But most of all, I am grateful to know that He died for all of us collectively and for me individually, that through his grace I may be forgiven of my sins and that through his mercy I may be succored in all my weaknesses and infirmities.

Happy Christmas.