So many of my Christmas memories as a child were pleasant. But Christmas isn’t a joyous time for everyone. I recall a story that my grandma shared with me when she was eight years old. Grandma Copeland had been particularly naughty that year. Her no-nonsense parents, my great-grandpa Ewald and Grandma Luella, descended from hard-working, no-nonsense German stock, passed high expectations down to their children. They were strict and operated with a parental detachment “children should be seen and not heard” variety. Consequently, Grandma Copeland ended up with a lump of coal in her stocking.
Such stories are rare these days as parents don’t put coal in their children’s stockings anymore. It’s usually a different story for most of us with children. And what a joy for parents to watch their young and eager children with faces beaming at the presents tucked under the Christmas tree. Joy all around. So what is it with children? Children are not threatening. They can bring great joy. They can be disarming and make us laugh. Charles Dickens reminds us, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”
But there is a twofold meaning to Christmas and its mighty Founder, and not just to children from long ago who feared coal in their stockings. On one hand, celebrating the birth of the Christ is nonthreatening and filled with great anticipation and celebration. At the same time, it’s also a tacit acknowledgement of the greatest threat to the world order. We readily celebrate the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” with angels singing, and shepherds being awed, and the cattle lowing, variety of Christmas. Yes, and that’s true.
But there is another oft neglected deep truth many of us are slow to acknowledge. Jesus came to bring an everlasting kingdom that threatened the notion that earthly power and the material world is the final reality. He came on a daring mission to push back utter darkness and make everything that is wrong in the world right again. Joseph and Mary didn’t fully comprehend this at the time. But do we really believe this truth today? It takes the child-like faith to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3). It also takes humility to receive Christ in his fullness. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his reflections on Advent asked, “Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.”
So how do you begin to comprehend the glory of a little child in a hay feeder and see God amidst “his lowliness”? The mysteries and ironies of the Christmas story abound. Consider that it’s about the infinite God becoming an infant. Eternal, yet he stepped into time and took on flesh. Almighty in power, yet a helpless babe. Possessing all wealth, yet born into humble circumstances. Royalty deserving a king’s palace, yet his first home was a barn. The mission of Jesus wasn’t to ascend an earthly throne but rather to be enthroned on every heart. He came to rescue a lost and broken humanity and to restore us to a right relationship with God. The story is amazing, but it’s more importantly true.
So, celebrate Christmas with gladness. Enjoy your children and grandchildren as they open their presents. Delight in the food and drink around your dinner table. These are all gifts from God. But remember that while we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, we are also acknowledging the eternal king whose mission wasn’t to condemn us, nor to give us proverbial coal in our stockings, but one who sets us free from our sins, renews our lives, and gives us a hope and a future so that we could spend eternity with him. And this is the profound gift that we celebrate on Christmas. May God bless you as you contemplate these truths and celebrate this momentous holiday with your family. Merry Christmas!