12.16.13 by brent hand
I know it’s cliche to even attempt to explain what Christmas is really all about. Every celebrity, pastor, cartoon character, and coca-cola commercial has already attempted it. One such attempt I witnessed a few years ago was a Shrek holiday special. Now, I’m no fan of Shrek or any of his sequels. And I don’t remember much about this TV Christmas Special, though I’m sure it was full of fart jokes and things that wouldn’t be funny if Eddie Murphy wasn’t a donkey. But I remember the final message pointed out by Shrek himself: “Christmas is about being together.”
And of course something snapped inside of me with righteous, holy anger that made me want to ninja kick that fat Scottish ogre in the face. Because we all know Christmas is about the birth of the sweet little baby Jesus. It’s his birthday! And that’s all that matters.
King James himself couldn’t have said it better.
That’s the real Christmas story; shepherds and sheep and angles and Jesus and swaddling clothes. Of course there’s Rudolph and Frosty and Scrooge and even Charlie Brown, but those are just characters we added on. And sometimes I get a little “holier” and stare down my nose at these new-comers to the Christmas story. We all do. And in fear that the “other guys” will some how out-shine or out-do our boy Jesus, we feel like we need to turn off the George Baileys and the Kevin McCallisters and watch the Nativity movie a few times on repeat. You know get back to the real faces of Christmas… Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and… wisemen?
Wait? Who? The Wisemen are totally a part of the first Christmas… right?
“When (the wisemen) saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him…”
Young Child? You mean they missed not only the first Christmas, but maybe the first two or three? The wisemen are like the original “added on” Christmas characters. Totally not there in the stable the night of Jesus’ birth, but that doesn’t stop them for showing up in Christmas pageants, live nativities, church musicals, and oversized lawn displays.
I find that strange. Especially because it’s “church-people” who make this “mistake.” I’m one of them. If we see any other story from the Bible presented and they get one little fact wrong, or leave one little thing out, or change one tiny detail we get beside ourselves, take to the streets to protest, and start demanding that no one alter the Word of God. But the wisemen are cool. They can come to the first Christmas party. No problem at all.
I find it strange… but then again, not that strange. Why? Because the wisemen are what Christmas is all about.
“No. Christmas is all about Jesus. His last name is right there in the name of the holiday. CHRIST-mas.”
Okay. So it’s not ALL about the wisemen. It’s first and foremost about CHRIST but what about the rest of that word?
I’m no scholar on the history of Christmas, but I’m fairly certain it comes from the term “Christ Mass.” In other words a mass to celebrate Christ’s birth. What’s mass? The word has several meanings. The one most commonly used is to refer to a large group of something. Not a few people, but a MASS of people. Traditionally, mass is a term (used by Catholics and other denominations as well) that refers to a particular church service. I’m no scholar on Catholicism either, but I’m pretty handy with the Google. And I find that the central idea to mass is the Lord’s Supper. Which reminds me of the early church in Acts breaking bread daily with one another and they did so to remember Jesus as he commanded on the night of his arrest. Mass/church isn’t something you do by yourself. It’s something you do with others. It’s all about coming together to celebrate what Christ has done and what he is doing. And that’s what’s so important about the second-most-imporant syllable in Christmas. It’s about us coming together to celebrate the most-important syllable in Christmas.
So why are the wisemen there in the Christmas play this year? Because we like them there. Because even if it’s not accurate it’s still true. Because that first Christmas wasn’t the only Christmas. And every year, more and more people have come and knelt at the feet of Jesus; shepherds, disciples, outcasts, lepers, prophets and pharisees. Kings, farmers, soldiers, poets, scientists and thinkers. Lawyers, teachers, artists, preachers, celebrities and athletes. The stable has grown. It has more than just the jewish shepherds and farm animals that were there that night. There’s room for all of us. Gathered together by the Gift that we’ve all been given.
So as much as I hate to admit it, Shrek was right. Yes Christmas is about Jesus. But celebrating alone really isn’t Christmas.
So what should we do? Don’t celebrate alone and don’t let anyone else celebrate alone. Do what the shepherds did: “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:17&18
The stable is always growing.