One of the stories my mom read to us at Christmas time when I was a child was, “If He Had not Come”. Many decades later, though I don’t recall the details, I do remember the strong feeling I had when hearing it. My concern, mostly anxiety,(though I doubt it had much if anything to do with the story itself) was that if Jesus had not come there would be no days off from school, no presents to buy and wrap, no secrets to keep from other family members about gifts to come, no new pajamas on Christmas eve (every year, without fail!), no stockings to hang by the chimney with care, no parties at school, no annual children’s Christmas pageant, no tree to decorate, no visit from Santa—maybe no Santa at all, no north pole, no elves, no Rudolph, no two front teeth so I could whistle Merry Christmas (as the popular carol went).
Almost 60 years later, my response to “If he had not come” has changed. Hopefully I’m wiser and a little more mature, a little less self-centered. Don’t get me wrong, though, I still get a warm feeling when I hear, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” I would be sad if I didn’t hear “Joy to the World” or “Little Town of Bethlehem,” or “Good King Wenceslas” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or even “Snoopy versus the Red Baron”. Even though I’ve spent wonderful summer Christmases south of the equator, I’d prefer a little snow for the holidays and a few Currier and Ives winter wonderland paintings displayed around town—preferably a town decorated with thousands of holiday lights. And, dare I confess it, and please don’t tell anyone, I do take an occasional stolen glance at a Hallmark Christmas movie!
However! Beyond all of that, I wonder, If he had not come . . .
- Would we proclaim and promote the worth of persons, ALL people, as clearly as we do . . . at least when we are at our best?
- Would we expect to find God among the poor and the outcast and the widows and orphans and in places where there is no room in the inn? Would we provide for and honor those people as we are taught to do—in unforgettable parables, in acts of forgiveness for prostitutes and persecutors?
- Would we have the courage, would we take the risks, to confront, to ‘turn over tables’ and drive out the corrupt and unjust as some among us do in the halls of power, the boardrooms of the strong and well-connected?
- Would we hold on as strongly to the hope that God is with us yet; that somehow in spite of all that is happening in our troubled world, goodness and right will eventually prevail?
- Would we strive as valiantly to create communities of joy, hope, love and peace—even in fits and starts and ‘failing’ and starting over?
- Would God seem as close, as present, as concerned, as gracious, as generous, as active in our lives, as much of an advocate for our wellbeing?
- Would we understand that we too can be and are called to be the birthplace of God in the world?
Could God, has God, does God reveal many of those truths through other faith traditions? Is God made incarnate in our midst even from the dawn of creation, not only in a manger in Bethlehem 2000 years ago? Yes, but, as Marcus Borg wrote, “Jesus enfleshes, embodies, incarnates, God’s Word, God’s revelation, God’s character and passion in a human life. Christmas means that, for Christians, Jesus is and should be decisive. What we see in him, the Word made flesh, is our revelation, our light in the darkness.”
I don’t think we are asked to say ‘no’ to a lot of the accoutrements of Christmas. Go ahead and watch “The Muppet Christmas Carol”. Decorate a tree in a thousand lights. Stuff someone’s stocking with silly little gifts. It’s OK. What we are invited to do, however, is to say yes to the fact that God DID come to us in a unique way in Jesus. What we are invited to do is to understand that because God came to us and comes to us, we see differently, we live differently. We give life. We nurture life. We choose life at Christmas and every other day.