What is Christmas about?
What do we, as fallen human beings, need?
And what are we tempted to make Christmas about?
Everything but Immanuel.
Immanuel: God with Us
As we are reminded in the Bible that “Immanuel” means God with us (Matthew 1.23). That’s what gives Christmas it’s meaning. That’s where our ultimate hope should be found. And that’s exactly what we’re tempted not to think about during Christmastime.
But what is so great about Immanuel? Well, it’s simple — there’s no better news that can ever be conceived of other than the fact that God is with us.
And how he chose to be with us is awe-inspiring. God could have have chosen to be with us in any number of ways.
He could have been with us as a judge divvying out just judgments for our many mistakes and missteps.
He could have been with us as a priest who teaching and/or leading us through a series of rituals to bring us closer to God.
He could have been with us as a prophet yelling on the street corner about God’s truths while wearing funny clothes.
He could have been with us as a victorious military leader who vanquishing all our foes from the past, present, and future.
Or he could have been with us a king, benevolent or otherwise, ruling from a palace.
But instead God chose to be with us as a poor child born to an unassuming young woman from a tiny town. The man who would serve as his earthly father was a work-a-day guy who was just as unassuming as the child’s mother.
God became Immanuel, God with us, in humility.
So during Christmastime this is what we celebrate. We celebrate the incarnation — God choosing to become one of us in the most humble of ways. We celebrate hope. We celebrate God’s plan to love us, rescue us, and set us apart for his mission.
While Immanuel is what Christmas is all about, we’re tempted to make it about other things instead. Here are a few:
- Family: While family is important, it’s not what Christmas is about. Family can point us to Immanuel, the fact that God is with us. Our family can remind us in tangible ways that God is with us. But family is not what Christmas is about, despite how good and important it is.
- Fun: Who doesn’t like having fun? Well, there are a few people — we all know who you are! But having fun is not what Christmas is about. Going to parties, seeing friends, and enjoying Christmas cheer can prevent us from remembering Immanuel.
- Gifts: Speaking of things we like; gifts rank right up there. Gifts are supposed to serve as a reminder of the gift of Jesus — the gift of Immanuel. But they usually don’t, do they? They often make us feel stressed, guilty, jealous, unfulfilled, and temporarily cared for. But they certainly aren’t what Christmas is all about.
- Food and Drinks: Now this is my favorite one! I love Christmas food and drinks! And in my family that means sausage balls, cookies, eggnog, holiday coffee, and roasted meat. But these things don’t usually point me or anyone else to the fact that God came to be with us. In fact they can distract us from Immanuel pretty easily.
- Decorations: There’s a show called “The Great American Light Fight” in which people compete for who has the most ridiculously, I mean festively, decorated houses. And some of our homes look like Christmas vomited in and on them. And while many of our decorations may point to Immanuel, many of them point to everything else instead.
- Status: And really underneath all of these is the fact that we may feel a pull to be more Christmasy than the people down the block. If our house looks better, our food tastes better, our family is cutre, etc., then we win the holiday competition. But our fight to be on top, whether pursued explicitly or implicitly, doesn’t point to Immanuel. It points to our egos and in the end it’s selfish.
Now I’m no Grinch. I love Christmastime, Christmas food, family at Christmas, Santa and his elves, Christmas movies and music, and everything else yuletidey.
But if these things get in the way of what Christmas is really about — Immanuel — then they need to be moved down the priority list.
This Christmas let’s not forget about Immanuel — the fact that God is with us!
What do you and your family do to keep pointed toward the fact that God is with us?