We all Know
We all know that "the true meaning of Christmas" is not to be found in tinselled trees, mince pies or sleigh bells.
Of course not.
Some further enlightened saints know that there is no such thing as "Christmas" at all, if we are seeking Scriptural light on the matter.
Christmas, Easter and every other so-called Christian festival find no hint in Holy Writ.
(Which means if a believer wishes to jump out of "Christmas" altogether no-one may judge them, nor, bearing in mind what X-mas means in the secular sphere, blame them.)
What all are agreed upon is that Christmas is somehow related to the birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnation, of which our carols so wondrously speak.
Everything turned on its head
The real meaning of the incarnation (our language is getting more accurate now) is in large measure this: that God turns upside down the priorities and values of this present passing age.
That's not quite right.
The world had turned God's values upside down, so the incarnation turns them right-side up.
What the world prizes turns out to be nigh-on irrelevant to God.
And contrawise, what the world has no interest in, turns out to be of paramount importance to heaven.
Whom God chooses, for example, is radically other than who the world would choose.
The world favours celebrities, the rich, the famous, the educated the gifted.
But who does God choose to bring His Divine Son into the world? A nobody Mary from the "can anything good come from?" town of Nazareth.
What kind of family does God bring his holy Son into? Surprisingly not a traditional marriage of husband, wife and two kids. A couple not yet married, around whom, therefore, would swirl the suspicion of illegitimacy.
Suspicion not only for Mary and Joseph but for Jesus in whose direction was slung the thinly-veiled slur, "we are not illegitimate" (John 8:41).
What kind of people were chosen witnesses to Jesus' birth and infancy? The aristocracy of Jerusalem? Those who held the reins of earthly power? The powerful, the educated?
Surprised commoners, shepherds on the tiresome night watch, are God's appointed witnesses!
And rank gentile outsiders, astrologically infected Magi, were led to the place where the infant boy Jesus lived.
And how was the news of Jesus' birth made known? Broadcast to the world by Roman heralds rushing hither and thither across the empire?
No. Hardly anyone knew the King of kings had arrived, except a few shepherds (who alone heard the heavenly hosts), an old believer by the name of Simeon plus an ageing prophetess by the name of Anna.
And of what wealth was the Divine Infant's family? Carpenter Joseph was a man of ordinary means. And if I am not mistaken, the gifts given by the Magi were to fund the escape to Egypt; meaning the family were not flushed with spare cash?
And was this baby desired by the world? Not if Herod - or the Jews - reveal the attitude of the welcome party. "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not recognize him." (John 1:10)
And were the circumstances of birth comfortable for the Prince of Peace? Private room in the Maternity ward at the Jerusalem Royal Hospital? That sort of thing.
For one thing, the expectant mother had just endured a long journey from Nazareth in response to a command of the Emperor. Add to that exigency, the misunderstanding of fiancé Joseph must have cast a shadow across the nativity. And then, just a short little while later, a fearful flight to yonder Egypt with a youngster in tow.
And what would Mary have made of the chilling prophecy of Simeon, "a sword will pierce your soul as well?" Not the kind of words any mother wants to hear.
Suffering, poverty, hardship, misunderstanding and ignominy marked the coming of the Son of Man into this world.
That's the true message of the incarnation.
Why no trumpets, fanfare or red carpets?
For three reasons.
First, God thinks and works in a (very) different way to the world. What matters to him is not outward show, numbers, wealth, health, fame, education or standing, but far more significant invisible qualities, such as character, faith, humility, love and hope.
Secondly, because the vast population of our world is ordinary. It is God's will that none should perish, that all shall hear. But how can the poor hear if the message or the messenger is obscured by a cloak of otherness? By coming into this world in such a humble way, the proud are stumbled and the poor gladly hear.
And thirdly, the divine order is this: suffering first, glory next. To be more precise, suffering in this world and glory in the next. For the joy set before him (i.e. beyond the grave) - see how this pattern spans the duration of his life? - Jesus endured the cross.
The incarnation, therefore, establishes a paradigm, not only for the Man of Sorrows, but for all his followers and for every true Christian church.
Suffering in this world, glory in the world to come.
This true meaning of the incarnation ought be the source of great joy and contentment.
God understands us and is with us in our earth-centric sufferings and sorrows.
God looks at the heart, not the illusionary outward indications of success, whether that be wealth, education, numbers or whatever else. So we don’t need to care about, nor chase, those illusory symbols of success.
God clearly does not think that anonymity or invisibility are hindrances to usefulness in his service.
And we can gladly forgo the approval of men and wait for a better world's "Well done good and faithful servant."
An incarnational paradigm shift in personal thinking proves to be the source of deep contentment to the humble poor.
But added to contentment, the incarnation should lead to repentance.
The evangelical world is virtually identical to the secular world in its value systems - and at serious odds with the incarnation.
We have our celebrity Christians.
We worship the god of numbers, whether hits, subscribers or congregation size.
We bow at the idol of education, wealth and status. Can you think of one single Christian leader or author who is an electrician, plumber, or fisherman? And we wonder why so few ordinary people respond to the Gospel in the West? Is it because they look at the church and think if not say, "If I have to become like them, I'm out of it."
We so easily prize high-falutin unintelligible theory-doctrine books (the latest conference
And so the list of shameless paradoxes goes on.
A true understanding of the incarnation would revolutionise our churches and church structures, giving due place to the truly rich.
But returning to a positive note, the incarnation gives hope.
It tells us that no-one is excluded from the possibility of God's grace and great usefulness in the service of his Kingdom.
Outsiders are welcome.
There is hope for nobodies.
Old men and old women are valuable in God's kingdom.
We may be as poor as a church mouse, have no drop of noble blood coursing through our veins, be convinced that oxbridge is the name of a bridge over the river Ox (it's not?), may hail from an unknown village - and still be chosen by God.
Indeed our chances of being chosen by God are directly in proportion to our lowness! Wonderful hope for the rich-poor!
So away, this Christmas, with the thinking of the world, and in with a incarnationally renewed mind.
Hope for the world!
Image by Greyson Joralemon, Unsplash