For me, Christmas is a time of deep reflection, not only as a follower of Jesus, but as an American living in the Western world. My worldview is deeply shaped by the Scriptures, so I have trouble reconciling many Western Christmas traditions with the ministry of Jesus, which we say this season is all about.
Why is it about Santa Claus? Why is about giving our family more stuff they probably don’t need (ie. gifts)? Why is it about saying “Merry Christmas” instead “Happy Holidays?” In America, we even have a section of the year dedicated to shopping just for Christmas — and it’s marked by greed, credit card debt and viral videos of fights in retail stores.
It seems, then, that much of Christmas in our part of the world is wrapped in consumerism and traditions that frankly don’t represent who Jesus is or what He came to do in this world.
As tragic as that is, it doesn’t have to be that way.
In Matthew 1, the apostle Matthew tells the story of how Jesus came into this world, through a faithful young couple chosen by God to carry on his mission of redemption. In verse 22, Matthew explains that what had taken place in Mary and Joseph’s life did so to fulfill prophesy found in Isaiah 7 — that a virgin would give birth to the one who should be called “Immanuel,” which is the Hebrew word for “God with us."
That’s the promise of Christmas and of the birth of Jesus: that God IS WITH US.
For generations, God worked with His chosen people, the Israelites, and remained faithful to His promises from Genesis 8 (to never bring another flood killing everyone) and Genesis 12 (to reconcile and repair humanity’s brokenness through Abraham’s descendants). But now, He had come to Earth to live a faithful and righteous life, dwell with His people as a human and forever reconcile the corruption and brokenness that we humans cause in His good world. He is the promised wounded victor from Genesis 3.
There is so much power in that truth. Jesus' life was marked by putting Himself below others and serving them, and by doing so, truly loving them.
His call is for us to do the same. When a Pharisee asked Jesus what the greatest command in the Torah is, Jesus replied, according to Matthew 22:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
In His response to the Pharisee, Jesus wasn't listing two commands. Instead, to Jesus, loving God with your entire being and loving your neighbor as yourself are two sides of the same coin. By loving God with everything that I am, surely I will put my neighbor above myself. And if I put my neighbor above myself, surely I am loving God with my entire self.
Western Christmas traditions aren't all bad. But if we wrap the season in celebrating Jesus coming to Earth, then how we do that must be wrapped in who Jesus is and what He has called his followers to do: to love others and serve them by putting them above ourselves, especially the vulnerable.