Jesus Is Not Part of the Christmas Story

Sunday before the Nativity, December 18, 2016
Hebrews 11:9-10, 32-40; Matthew 1:1-15
V. Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

We are now one week away from celebrating a great mystery of the Christian faith—the birth of the God-man Jesus Christ into this world. Yet as we approach this ancient Christian feast, whose date is not dependent in any way on paganism (despite what urban legends you may have heard) but actually on the feast of the Annunciation nine months before on March 25, we often experience an encroachment, a corruption of this great feast.

Every year, we hear about the so-called “war on Christmas.” We hear defiant complaints about people saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” We see painful commercialism rampant everywhere. We literally have an economy whose consumption requirements depend on buying and selling at this time of year.

And we see more insidious corruptions of this feast, as well. We are told that the true “meaning of Christmas” or “spirit of Christmas” is about being kind to other people, about giving to other people. We are told that the purpose of Christmas is to bring families together. And we even see some Christian churches closing their doors this next Sunday precisely so that people can spend time with their families but not worshiping the Lord Jesus in the House of God.

Now, there is nothing wrong with giving or with kindness or with family time. And there’s nothing wrong with doing these things in connection with Christmas. But those things aren’t the meaning of Christmas. After all, atheists and members of other religions do all of those things. Doing them doesn’t mean they’re celebrating Christmas.

Our cultural problem is really a narrative problem—a story problem. And so the usual call from serious Christians is summed up with this slogan: Let’s put Christ back into Christmas. But I believe that that is a slogan that has already conceded defeat, that has already conceded Christmas to the forces of anti-Christmas. Why?

It’s because we have this idea that there is this event called Christmas, and what it’s missing is Jesus. If only we would put baby Jesus back into our Nativity set somewhere, then we would have a proper Christmas with all the right accessories. It’s just not complete without a baby Jesus.

But that misses what the story really is. If we think that the story is about Christmas, and Jesus is a part of that story, then we’ve missed the story entirely. If that’s what we think, then we don’t know what Christmas is.

Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas. Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.

When Christians celebrate Christmas, what we are celebrating is the Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. It is the next feast in the story of Jesus Christ. The previous feast in this story happened nine months ago on March 25. That was the feast of the Annunciation, the moment when God became man, the moment when Jesus was conceived virginally, incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. At that moment, the Son of God became man. And He began to grow within His mother’s womb, taking His very flesh from her, taking His humanity from her.

This feast of the Nativity is what comes next in the story. It is the moment when the God-man Jesus, Who has been growing for nine months already as man, is now revealed to the world through His birth. What was hidden, secreted away in the pure womb of the Virgin, is now openly presented. Angels sing the announcement. Shepherds tell of this moment. Wise men begin a journey from the East to worship Him.

Our God and Savior is born into human history. And this is why we read the Gospel of His genealogy on this Sunday before the Nativity. It is a witness to His entrance into human history, His entrance not through a side door, not through a back door, not even through opened gates as though He were an invader, alien to us. No, He entered through birth. He entered in the same way that all of us enter this world.

And then with His birth, He becomes part of a human family, part of our human family, our human race. And He is also part of the family of the people of Israel. And because of this identity, He is circumcised as all Jewish boys were. That’s another part of this story and another feast, celebrated January 1. And He is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem by His mother and Joseph, presented as all the Jewish firstborn were. And that’s another part of the story and another feast, celebrated February 2.

He grows, He is baptized. That’s another feast, celebrated January 6. He teaches and heals. He is transfigured in glory on Mount Tabor. That is another feast, celebrated August 6. He is crucified, dies and is buried. He rises on the third day and ascends into Heaven. And He sends to us the Holy Spirit to fill the Church with power from on high. More story, more feasts! And if we are joined to Him, we can also experience every part of His life and be healed by the touch.

This is the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, and the Savior of the world.

Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas. Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.

Have we considered that this is the story we are celebrating? That Christmas is one chapter in this story of Jesus?

It is not a chapter in the story of the American economy. It is not a chapter in the culture wars. It is not a chapter in charitable giving. It is not a chapter in family traditions of togetherness. Christmas is a chapter in the story of Jesus Christ, the story of the King Who is coming into the world to destroy the power of death forever.

We have to understand what secularism does if we are going to be able to live as non-secular people. What secularism does is not to eliminate our faith. There is not a “war” on Christmas or even on Christianity in the sense that the goal is to directly snuff it out. No, it’s actually far more subtle than that.

What secularism does is to trivialize Christmas, to trivialize our Christian faith. We don’t have to get rid of it—of course not. No, we are simply expected to make Jesus Christ a “part” of our lives. He’s just a part. He’s one character in a larger story, the story of our own lives with our own priorities and our own narrative, the story in which we are the hero.

This is why a secular world is just fine with “putting Christ back into Christmas,” because it means that secularism has already taken over Christmas. It means that Christmas has become part of the secular story of the “good life” that has pleasant holidays and family traditions and a growing economy. If you want the baby Jesus as a character in your Christmas story, go for it.

But Jesus did not come here to enter as a character in someone else’s story. He has come to reveal a completely different story, and it is His story. Indeed, all of history is finally revealed as His story. The genealogy we read today turns out to be prologue to the introduction of the main Character, the true Hero of history Whose coming reveals everything for what it truly is.

The question for each of us to ask is not whether Jesus is part of our life story. The question is whether we are part of His life story. Because that’s what’s happening. That’s the true story. That’s where we are.

Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas. Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.

And we can be part of that story, too.

To the coming King be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

12 comments:

  1. Thank you, Son. If your Mom could have read this, she would be singing “And the Glory of the Lord” from “The Messiah.” But then, I suppose she is already.

  2. Wonderful to read Father Damick. I wonder how much ‘we’ do that causes this secularism and “trivialization ” like the “Christmas tree” and Santa Claus. Even very serious Orthodox faithful keep these two elements as central to the Advent occasion and feel that “it is not Christmas without them”. I believe your talk is very on point but will not bare fruit if we as orthodox faithful continue to “Christianize” traditions and practice which are not relevent to our true “narrative”. The Advent of the God-man does not need a lighted tree or a fake wizard in a red fury suit sitting at its very center. These are harmless traditions and quite pretty and fun., but are misplaced within our Truth as believers. Thank you father and congratulation on your elevation .

    Peace+

  3. “Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas. Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.” That sentence says it all right there. Thank you, Father.

  4. Thank you, Father! This was a wonderful read. I recognize this is not the central point of the article, but I am curious about how the date for Christmas was chosen. I understand that Annuciation and Christmas are 9 months apart, but which feast was first celebrated/given a fixed date? Also, how was a date chosen for the first of these feasts, given that it was not related to paganism? Thank you!

  5. thank you for continuing to be part of my love and faith inJesus Christ.
    God is eternal.all loving and always here to live through us.

  6. I appreciate being able to read your article on a Facebook post by my cousin who is of the Orthodox faith. It is so well written and enlightening, that I wish more believers and non-believers alike had access to it. I am a Christian of the evangelical Presbyterian denomination, and I think that some Orthodox followers may be a bit surprised that we also believe and follow these same fundamental truths as written in your piece, even though our rituals and traditions vary. Thank you and Merry Christmas! P.S. It never upsets me to hear “Happy Holidays” since the word ‘holidays’ is made from the words ” Holy Days”.

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