Christmas Without the Christ
Christians bemoan the loss of Christ from Christmas. A merry, that is a 'blessed' Christmas has been replaced with 'Happy Holidays' and 'Seasons Greetings.' "Christmas lights" are now "holiday lights." And what about X- mas? That really isn't a removal of Christ. The Greeks early on used the abbreviation X-mas. X is the Greek letter chi. It's the first letter in the Greek for Christ, Xristos. By the 16th century, "X-mas" was used all over Europe as an abbreviation for the Communion service on Christmas Day, i.e. Christ's Mass. Later Christians unfamiliar with the Greek mistook X-mas as an attempt by unbelievers to rid Christmas of it's real meaning.
You can understand why Christians are so sensitive about this when you read John's Gospel. Without Christ you lose not just the real meaning of Christmas but literally everything. Isn't that what John says? "Without Christ was not anything made that was made." No Christ, and not just no Christmas, but no creation. John goes right back to the beginning of creation, right back to Genesis 1 which says "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form, and void." There would only be a formless void had not Christ the Word been there in the beginning saying, "Let there be..." Can't imagine Christmas without Christ? Well, John can't imagine creation without Him.
Neither can John imagine revelation without Christ. John says Christ is "the light of men...which lights every man that comes into the world." In verse 18 John says, "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." Without Christ, we could not know the truth about God. We would be held captive by superstition, rumors, best guesses. God could not be Father to us but only at best an unknowable Being or at worst a tyrant, an ogre, a vengeful deity.
No Christ, no Christmas, no creation, no revelation, and no incarnation. The Second Person of the Trinity, not the First or the Third became flesh and dwelt among us. Not God the Father, not God the Holy Spirit, but God the Son became incarnate through the womb of the Virgin Mary. Without Christ; there is no having a Friend in Jesus; no Rock of Ages clefting for you or anyone else; and there is no Joy to the World, Silent Night, or Angels from the Realms of Glory. Without Christ there would be no God-Man and there could be no peace between God and man, and therefore when we heard the bells on Christmas Day, we could only do what Longfellow did in verse 3 of his carol: "And in despair I bowed by head, "There is no peace on earth," I said, "For hate is strong, and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men."
No Christ, not only no Christmas, but no creation, no revelation, no incarnation, and no recreation, that is, no salvation. No Christ no power to become children of God. We could only be born of men and not reborn of God and so we would only have death and judgement to look forward to. Then the best we could hope for is recreation in this life since without Christ there could be no recreation for the next.
Without Christ , there can only be chaos in creation; there can only be uncertainty about God; there can only be a deep chasm separating man and God; and there can be no salvation for sinners. What a horrible way to live; what an even more horrible way to die. But this doesn't have to be the way we live or die. No matter if our world only knows season's greetings and a holiday season, we know there is more. Christ remains in our Christmas and therefore something radical has happened.
Heathenism knows of an all powerful god. It has stories of Zeus defeating his enemies, ruling the world and the heavens. And heathenism has stories of a god who suffers and is the savior of mankind. This is Prometheus. For giving fire and ants to man, almighty Zeus chained him to mountain where a vulture perpetually eats his liver. So heathenism knows an almighty god and a god who suffers. What heathenism does not know is the radical truth of Christmas that there is a Being who is both Zeus and Prometheus. God the Son with the Father from all Eternity, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit takes on our flesh and blood. Heathenism knows of a god who rules creation and even of a god who saves mankind and suffers for it, but it knows of no God who is both Creator and Savior.
This radical truth of Christmas no heathen myth or pagan story ever gets close to. The God who is Spirit takes on flesh and blood to climb down into His creation that had rebelled against Him and damned themselves. God the Father decides to save the world by pitching His Son into it. A soldier in WW I tells of a church in France that was badly damaged by shelling. On the top of the church the statue of the Golden Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus was leaning way over. It seemed to the soldier that Baby Jesus was being thrown into the battle as a sacrifice to end the slaughter.
It is typical of the WWI era to think that God sent Christ to establish peace on earth, but the truth is more radical than that. God sent Christ to establish peace between the holy God and unholy men. Christ tells us in John 14 that His peace is not the peace of the world; it's not the peace between countries or races or religions that Christmas celebrates. Indeed in John 16 Jesus promises us that in the world we won't have peace but tribulation. In the world, we will have the tribulation of wars and rumors of wars, of cancer and disease, of auto accidents and tragedies, but in Jesus there is peace between us and God.
How can there be peace between God and sinners? Only if God makes it. And on Christmas God does; that's why He proclaims to shepherds, "Peace of Earth." How does God make peace? By removing His wrath. How did God remove His wrath? By "ho-ho-hoing" it away? By saying, "I was just kidding about those commandments?" By breaking His promise that the soul that sins dies? No for God to be at peace with man the commandments had to be kept by a Man. They were given to men not God so a man had to keep them.
So God sent forth His Son, born under the Law to redeem us who were under it. God the Son kept the commandments that relentlessly stab you in your conscience. Those commandments that you can't keep Christ kept. So, they are a done deal before God in heaven. He doesn't look down from heaven this morning and see broken commandments laying about your feet. He sees them as kept perfectly by you for Christ's sake.
What about God's promise that the soul that sins dies? God would be a liar if He didn't keep that promise. So what did God do? He made His Son to be sin, says Paul. He placed all sins on Him. God took all my sins, all yours, all the sins of the world and placed them on Christ, and then punished Him without mercy all the way to death. That's an awful lot of suffering, and you can be sure Christ didn't suffer in vain. God isn't looking down from heaven on this Christmas morn saying, "I'm going to get him; I'm going to get her." No, God did all the "getting" by getting His only beloved Son. Having done so, He will not, He cannot turn around and get you. He went to war with His only Son just so He could be at peace with you.
Our Christmas has a Christ. So our Christmas has not just creation, not just incarnation, not just a recreation of us as sons and daughters of God but a revelation. For Jews and Muslims God must remain invisible. He is too high and mighty for flesh and blood to look upon let alone to become flesh and blood. He is too far above creation to taste of our sorrows let alone our death. This is nothing but the ancient paganism of Homer. Homer says in the Iliad that the gods remain sorrowless while miserable men live in pain. But what does Scripture say? Christ is like us in all ways yet without sin. Christ tasted of death for all men. Christ carried our griefs and bore our sorrows. Christ was a Man of sorrows acquainted with grief. What a radical revelation of God Christ is! God isn't far above me unfamiliar with my aches and pains, my fears and doubts, my disease and death. God in Christ not only knows all about these but He is right here with me bearing my burdens and woes, my complaints and heartaches my cares and concerns.
Christmas is the celebration not of God being safe in heaven but of God being Immanuel. Immanuel means "God with us." God wants to be with us. So God in flesh and blood, the Christ of Christmas, instituted Sacraments, holy mysteries whereby He could be with us even to the end of the age. God did not give us His own Son only to take Him away from us again at His ascension into heaven. God willed that Christ be Immanuel, God with us, so Christ left us holy things so that He might be with us all our days.
He instituted Baptism. In Baptism we are brought into the Divine Name of the Triune God and clothed with Christ as Paul says in Galatians 3. How close are your clothes to you right now? That's how close God in Christ is to you in your Baptism. How close is water to your skin when you wash? That's how close Christ is to you in your Baptism.
The Christ in Christmas not only instituted Baptism to be with you to the end of this age, but He instituted Absolution. By words spoken on earth by a man in time, sins are eternally forgiven before God in heaven. He who hears them hears Me, says Christ. How close are these words you are hearing to your ears? I don't know a word to describe that degree of closeness, but that's how close Christ is to you right now. In Christmas, God wills to be with fallen sinners like us even to the close of the age. Surely, then He wants to continue to talk to us. "I forgive you," is one of the main things He wants sinners like us to hear from His lips.
Christ doesn't just will to be on us in the Waters of Baptism, or in our ears by the Words of Absolution, Christ wills to be in our very mouths and bodies. In Holy Communion, He gives sinners His Body and Blood for us to eat and drink. You can't get any closer to something than by eating and drinking it. Our God, Christ Jesus, wills that we eat His Body and drink His Blood in Holy Communion; to such a profound extent is God with us.
You should see a close link between the manger and the altar. The manger and the altar bring before us the same comfort that God wants to be with us. He took on flesh and blood through a virgin and ended up in a manger. Wanting to be with us even after He ascended into heaven, Christ left us a meal where His Body and Blood takes on Bread and Wine. Take Christ out of Christmas and you miss the point and comfort of Christmas; take Christ out of Communion and you miss the point and comfort of Communion.
A poem by a poet laureate of England shows the link between Christ in Christmas and Christ in Communion. The last lines read: "Nor all the steeple-shaking bells/ Can with this single truth compare-/ That God was Man in Palestine/ And lives today in Bread and Wine." Let them take Christ out of their Christmas; let them take Christ out of their Communion. Christ remains in our Christmas and in our Communion. And as always, wherever Christ is, He is not just WITH us but FOR us. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Feast of The Nativity (12-25-02), John 1: 1-18