Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Becoming Human

Earlier this month I was emailing a little with my friend Stephen. He was talking about how he approves of any holiday which involves his getting presents. He was speaking of Hanukkah mostly (and acknowledging that the reason presents are exchanged during that holiday was so Jewish children wouldn't feel bad that they weren't getting presents during their holiday the way the Christian kids were during theirs). I could kind of resonate with this sentiment, if the truth were known (as it is about to be).

"I like presents, too," I said.

I am fully cognizant that my pretty Christmas tree and the digital camera that my family are pitching in to get me for Christmas have nothing to do with what I believe to be a celebration of God becoming a human being. However. I guess you could make the stretch and say the presents are a celebration of the material world which God validated if He did, in fact, become a human being. Or you could just make a pun on the word 'presents/presence.' Anyway. I'm just saying, I like the gifts.

Let's be honest, here . . .

"I have to say," Stephen replied,

that as an outside observer, I've always been fascinated by the fact that Christmas seems to be a bigger holiday than Easter (when I was working retail, I had a customer berate me for us being open on Easter while she was buying stuff - I love irony). It always seemed that Christ rising and becoming God was kind of the point of Christianity. You're the first person to ever phrase Christmas as the day that God became human. Quite interesting...

At which point, I e-blurted,

I can't believe I'm the first person you've ever heard express that Christmas is about God becoming human. No offense to them, but my gut reaction was to blurt out, 'What kind of Christians are these people?' (I.e., the ones you know who haven't expressed it like that.) Easter isn't about Jesus becoming God. Christians believe He was God the whole time. Easter is about "reversing the curse," if you will--death (including separation from God) being the "curse" and consequence of the general human rebellion against God. God didn't want us separated from Him, but at the same time He is just and requires restitution for the upending of the order of things we caused in His creation. The offended party is the only one who can forgive, and the offending party is the only one who can make restitution, so God became human Himself so He could both make the restitution on our behalf and extend forgiveness to the rest of us after restitution had been made. By submitting to death (including a rift in His own nature--most Christians believe that for a moment God the Father turned His back on God the Son on the cross), He took on His own curse, and by coming back to life, He broke it. Not, of course, that we don't all physically die--it's just that the ultimate effects of death can be different. (Presupposing life after it, of course.) Anyway. That's why Easter is so awesome--it's the culmination of God's becoming human and releasing us from our fear of death and giving us a completely new direction for life both now and later.
I know--that's a long "blurt." But this is me--did you expect a short one?

Amazingly, Stephen actually responded even after all that, but he did make the point that, "I have a funny feeling that if I were to post a survey on Facebook asking why Christmas is important to Christianity (as opposed to the day everyone gets stuff), most would simply say 'It's the day Jesus was born' instead of any reference to God becoming human. But don't hold me to that."

Okay, I won't hold him to that. But it really got me thinking. Many Christians want to "take back Christmas." Even though most of the time I am at least partially thinking that in fact it was we who commandeered a pagan holiday or two, and while I don't feel bad about it, it does seem maybe a little hypocritical to phrase it quite that way--in spite of such subversive thinking, it does feel pretty good to have someone random that isn't from either of my churches wish me a Merry Christmas. Like my long-lost Muslim friend who just contacted me on Facebook this evening, for example. But I think sometimes we Christians think that all we have to say is "Merry Christmas," and that is magically going to translate into everyone's head everything that Christmas means to us. Let's face it--those words don't even translate that to most Christians half the time, busy as we are trying to make the holiday significant. Frankly, I'm more likely to be thinking of how stressed out my wallet is this month than I am about how God invaded human history as one of us.

It seems to me that if we really want to get Christmas "back," we should worry less about correcting people who cheerfully and well-intentionedly tell us to "Enjoy the holiday!" and focus more on the fact that God became human. And that He did so, in part, to help us become more human, too, and give us endless reasons to celebrate.

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