Christmas – or any holiday – does not have a meaning behind it.
Of course holidays have certain narratives behind them, but I know of no single holiday that has ever celebrated a story that wasn’t so complex it wouldn’t be summed up in a word or sentence. Nor one that has ever had just one meaning, especially one about the incarnation of God. Tricky…
Holidays, of just about any kind, come with specific practices, and the practices always tell some kind of story, a story important enough to remember. Is there is single meaning behind the fourth of July? Is there a clear singular idea that brought about Martin Luther King Jr. Day? If so we don’t talk about it much. “Marching is the reason for the season?” Yes, also that, but that alone? No. “Racism is the meaning for the season?” Hmmm. That seems backwards somehow.
Humans celebrate the holidays because remembering does something to us. Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Day makes us look at the whole life of a man and a movement, not just one act, not just one cause. We tell the story of the human being that told us so much about what it means to be human that we want him to keep telling us.
It is the story and the practices that go with it that change the way we see the world. There is a whole story behind Christmas, not the least of which was something involving incredibly poor shepherds who were the first to hear about the divine event. Poor people. They had nothing to offer, and they were first on the scene. It’s one part of the story we can remember. It is part of the story we can not live without. It is part of what Christmas does, but not the only thing it means.
The good news here is that rather than having to intellectually master whatever cryptic singular idea of Christmas may be, you just have to play along. We may have to make good choices about which practices we participate in. Shepherds and MasterCard are a very odd mix for this story. But these practices, what ever they are, will change us. They can tell us about our worth, obligation and debt, or these habits can weave us into a story that is bigger than one night in a barn, bigger than a ride on a donkey, and bigger than just the shepherds. It’s not just about Jesus but the nature of his kingdom.
In some way, it becomes our story in which God can be born – over and over again – in life today. And all we have to do is play along.