What is the meaning of Christmas? That is, what is it that we highlight and celebrate during Christmastide—the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany? We hear the annual refrain and exhortation to keep Christ in Christmas. But what does that mean? What about Christ are we keeping in Christmas? What is it about Christ that we highlight and proclaim during Christmas?
It is during this time that we remember that God is with us in the person of Christ and that he is with us to save us from our sins. As Paul would put it, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…” (Titus 3:4-5a). But is it possible that there is more to the story than just that? I am thinking of texts like Isaiah 9:6-7:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder…of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore…
The prophet places a heavy emphasis on ruling, reigning and government. Mary takes up this theme in her Magnificat. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk. 1:51-52). And Zechariah too. With the coming of Jesus he saw God acting “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us…that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear” (Lk. 1:71; 74).
From this we can conclude a couple of things. First, is that Christmas celebrates something far bigger than just our personal and individual salvation. Christmastide is the time of cosmic celebration, time when God enters into the world to set the world right. In other words, Christmas is a celebration of cosmic proportions. And second, and related to the first, the celebration of Christmas is the subversive work of the church to overthrow the godless and anti-Christian governments of the world in exchange for the rule and reign of Christ. Far from being an innocent announcement, God with us is the declaration that the world is on notice. It is the declaration that God is dramatically at work in Christ not just for us and for our salvation, but for the world. The celebration of Christmas might be the most political celebration the church engages in. It proclaims to the state that there is another to whom we pledge allegiance. And make no mistake about it, the state doesn’t like rivals and the state doesn’t like it when its subjects refuse to march to the beat of its drum. This is what Christianity is about and this is what makes it so subversive: a baby, upon whom rests the government of the world? At least when Atlas is portrayed upholding the world he is massive and strong. As long as Christmas only relates to baby Jesus it will continue to be domesticated and consequently accepted and even celebrated. But when the theme of the government being on his shoulders is recaptured and the promise that the increase of his government shall have no end is proclaimed that’s when it will get exciting. May God grant us to celebrate the cosmic significance of Christmas this year.