“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14
The passover is celebrated because of a miracle of radical deliverance from Egypt. Easter or Pascha, likewise celebrates the resurrection of Christ, enacting a radical deliverance of all who believe from death. But what miracle do we celebrate when we celebrate Christmas?
Some Christians feel a little conflicted and embarrassed by Christmas. They are uneasy about its commercialism, excesses, history, and of course, that it was that it was never mentioned in the Bible. Traditions such the display of evergreen branches (the origin of our modern Christmas tree) have older symbolisms tracing to non-Christian cultures’ celebration of the solstice. Most serious students of the Bible know that December 25 did not align with the actual historical date of Jesus’ birth, which more likely occurred in the spring.
However, I think sincere Christians of ages past were quite aware of this when they started co-opting the seasonal celebrations of their surrounding cultures to give different meanings to them within the church. Just as modern churches put on Harvest Festivals as an event to counter the occultish symbols associated with Halloween, similarly, it is highly likely while all the pagans of antiquity were partying for solstice, the Christians decided that they would have their own celebration instead. Through this celebration, there was something they wanted to express to the broader culture outside.
Thus, the fulfillment of prophecy, a virgin birth, the histories of wise men and what Herod did are not the object of the celebration--these are insider stories. They are not the message to a broader world. Before there can be the message of the cross, there needs to be the message of a man, and Christmas fulfils a time within our sacred rhythms to remember and talk about Jesus as a man, born as we are, to a world full of both wonder and sorrow.
The astonishing miracle of advent is a creator identifying with the created in the most radical way possible, by becoming one of us.
Immanuel: God with us.
When you love someone deeply, you want to identify with the object of your love, to know her thoughts, feelings, moods, to understand every facet of her experience. Christmas is a remembrance of a radically romantic act.
The world feels uncomfortable with real passion when it happens. We are scared of the abandonment, the risk of total loss it presents. It represents a commitment so deep that it lays down everything unreasonably. So to spare itself from having to look into the brightness of that fire, the world satisfies itself with safe and selfish eroticism and calls that passion. But the incarnation is the declaration of love from an all-in, no-reservations God.
A God who inhabits flesh knows what it is to feel hungry, thirsty, tired, what it is to weep and be betrayed. He knows the frustrations and longings of the human heart because he lived with one. A love like that is worth celebrating however we find to do it, until the end of time.
He wants to show us that he understands everything we are, have been, and will be.
That is the miracle of Christmas.