Over the last few years, as I have journeyed out of the religious ‘system’, I have observed something profound that has naturally happened within me along the way. I did not fully realize this was happening until just recently. Here is the startling realization that I have discovered about myself:
My view of Christmas has greatly diminished!
Let me apologize, in advance, to two groups of people that could be offended by this article. My intention is not to offend, but to shed some light on an important development in my journey. The two groups that could be offended are the ‘Christmas is evil’ group, and the ‘Christmas is the most wonderful time of year’ group. Both of these groups, in my opinion, are symptoms of much deeper issues that I will address in this article.
While it’s true that my wife has accused me of being ‘scrooge’ before, I can assure you that I am not really an anti-Christmas ‘bah humbug’ kind of a guy. I have simply discovered that the ‘magic’ of Christmas day has been replaced by something greater.
Something Greater Than ‘Emmanuel’ – (God with us)
To say we belong to a stunning God is an understatement. It wasn’t enough for God to simply ‘tell’ humanity about Himself through external messengers, He wanted something more…He wanted to physically dwell with His people! The fact that God, by Whom, through Whom, and in Whom the very universe exists, would break into this realm and enter into the womb of a poor, young, Jewish girl is simply incomprehensible. God the Son, the only begotten from the Father, entered into the created realm and dwelt among us! (John 1:14) I know that is the heart of what many celebrate on Christmas.
Since the fall of mankind into sin, everything had been leading to the humble entrance of God the Son into that cave in Bethlehem. This baby was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. He truly was ‘Emmanuel’ (God with us)! Theologians have called this the ‘incarnation’. The incarnation masterfully embodies God’s heart to dwell with mankind. John the apostle describes the incarnation as the Word of God literally ‘tabernacling’ with mankind! Here is my question regarding this ‘incarnation’, however:
Is there anything better than ‘God with us’ (Emmanuel)?
Yes! There is something much more to God’s heart regarding His desire to dwell with His people (incarnation) than just ‘God with us’! God’s heart for closeness and intimacy with His people is so great that He conceived a very profound mystery that is much better than ‘God with us’. The picture of Mary carrying the Christ child in her womb was just a shadow of a greater reality that would come later. What greater reality am I talking about that could possibly be better than ‘God with us’ (Emmanuel)?
God in us!
‘God in us’ is better than ‘God with us’! Don’t take my word for it, consider what Jesus Himself said to His disciples:
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides *with* you and will be *in* you. (John 16:7, 14:16-17)
Breathtaking! He basically unveiled the next great mystery in God’s eternal purpose. He explained to His disciples that, while they knew the truth (Christ) who was *with* them externally, this truth (Christ) would eventually be *in* them through the Spirit who would be sent to take up residence in their inner man! Although the disciples did not understand this at the time, this is the mystery that Paul the apostle described as being ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27). This still overlooked mystery actually became the essence of the New Testament gospel.
Do you see the significance of this?
The miracle of the incarnation has taken on a whole new dimension! God the Son, once born into the world as one small person to dwell *with* His people, now has been born INTO the hearts of many to form a large ‘multi-membered’ body. The heart of God was not just that God would dwell *with* us (Emmanuel), but that God would dwell *in* us!
The traditional idea of Christmas is a celebration of a past event that occurred on a day. It was simply a shadow of a greater reality that was to come, however. This greater reality of the incarnation, God in us, is not a past tense event but a present tense reality!
Why the preoccupation with a day?
This is a revealing question that deserves some attention. Spiritually speaking, for most of my adult life I have only had an intellectual understanding of the mystery of ‘Christ in us’. Sadly, I had been presented with a religious message that taught me to see myself as an external follower of Christ rather than someone who was ‘In Christ’. Basically, I was more focused on trying to be *with* Christ because my heart was not yet awake to the profound reality of the incarnation of Christ *in* us! As a result, the incarnation of Christ was more of a past tense event to be celebrated on a particular day (Christmas), rather than a reality lived out each day of the year.
It is interesting to note that the term ‘holiday’ is derived from the words ‘holy day’. When we are focused on an external event that occurred on a particular day, then that certain day can be seen as *holy* (set apart for God). Strangely, if we say that only certain days are ‘holy’, by default we are saying that there are also certain days that are not ‘holy’. Again, when we see the incarnation of Christ as a way of life *in* Christ, and not simply an external event from the past, we will understand that every day is a ‘holiday’ (holy-day).
Although I did not purposely set out to diminish the importance of the ‘Christmas holiday’, it has naturally (organically) lost its significance as an extra special day the more my spirit has been awakened to the New Testament vision of Jesus Christ. To be completely honest, everyday seems like a ‘holiday’ (holy-day) the more that I am aware of the greater internal reality of Christ *in* us as a state of being and a way of life.
I don’t think this situation is unique to me, however. A study of church history will reveal this as well. It is interesting to note that the New Testament church did not come up with new Christian ‘holy days’ to celebrate the incarnation or the resurrection of Christ. The resurrected life of Jesus Christ dwelling within the saints was a focus and way of life for much of the New Testament churches.
Unfortunately, toward the end of even the first century, the church began to move away from Jesus Christ as the center and head of the church. This is why John wrote his gospel toward the end of the first century. It was a call to refocus the church on the person of Jesus Christ. As you may know, however, by the second and third centuries, the majority of Christendom had lost the New Testament vision of Jesus Christ and had returned to Old Covenant external thinking.
The Old Testament is filled with shadows and pictures of Christ such as ‘holy-days’, the physical temple, sacrifices, a selective priesthood, etc… When Jesus Christ came on the scene, however, He is the fulfillment of all the ‘holy-days’. He is the true temple. He was the perfect sacrifice. He is the ultimate high priest. Now that we are ‘in Christ’, every day is ‘holy’. We are His body, the temple. We all have received His priesthood, etc… All those Old Testament pictures have been fulfilled *in* Christ and are replaced by Christ.
Again, church history clearly reveals that even after a few hundred years, the majority of the churches (not all) had lost sight of Christ and began to return to an Old Testament external temple mentality, selective priesthood, etc…this is also when we begin to see an emphasis on the creation of new Christian ‘holy-days’ (Christmas & Easter, etc…). There is much more that I could say about this, but that is another article for another day. The point is, when we lose sight of the New Testament vision of Jesus Christ (Head and Body), we will always revert back to a man made religious focus on the externals.
What am I saying?
Please understand, I am NOT saying that you should not celebrate ‘holidays’ like Christmas or Easter. I strongly disagree with those who would attempt to make a law where we have freedom in Christ. We can behold the Lord in just about any situation. If you want to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, January 8th, July 4th, etc…you are free to do that. I also understand that there is a strong cultural / family element to these ‘holidays’ as well. I take no issue with that.
What I am asking you to do, however, is to take note of what has occurred. ’Holidays’ (like Christmas and Easter) were not invented in a vacuum. There is a reason they were invented. There is also a reason why these ‘holy-days’ are so important in institutional Christendom. Think about it.
I’ll leave you with a few questions that could be food for thought for you and your family over Christmas dinner this year…
Do you see the incarnation of Christ as simply a past tense event?
Do you experience the incarnation of Christ as a present tense reality within yourself and a body of believers who are living by Christ’s divine life together?
Do you see some days as ‘holy’ (set apart for God) while others are just ‘regular’?
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!!