It's time, once again, to hear the tried and true exhortations to celebrate the birth of our Lord for the right reasons: "Jesus is the reason for the season," "Put the Christ back in Xmas," "Make the holiday a Holy Day, " et al. We owe it to the Lord, we think, to make sure the world knows what all the fuss is about. Directing the festivities, we remind each other that consumerism destroys the "true meaning of Christmas." Even though pagans get it wrong (wasn't the date, Dec. 25th, chosen to compete with a pagan holiday?), we try to preserve the magic of advent with candles and carols. This is our holiday. This is our time of the year. Believers must do Christmas the right way.
But, if Matthew and Luke have anything to say about how we should observe the birthday of Jesus (and they tell two completely different stories), it is this: Christmas is for all people. It's not only for religious people. It's not only for righteous people. It's not only for insiders. Jesus was born for all people. Matthew loves the part about how "outsiders" (pagan star-gazers) offered Jesus their expensive gifts (inappropriate for poor people like Joseph and Mary), worshipped the Christ child, then returned to their homeland, disappearing from the narrative. Luke tells the story about how Joseph was rejected by his family (Bethlehem is home), how Mary had no women-folk to help with the delivery (usually, the women would announce the birth of a son with jubilant chanting), and how insignificant shepherds discovered their Messiah in a feeding trough. Angels chanted when Jesus was born. Shepherds were the first evangelists. And, thanks to Matthew, Joseph would go down in history as the dreamer who knew how to protect his little family from the King of the Jews. There are no insiders or outsiders when it comes to the good news of great joy for all people.
Come wise men, come shepherds, come angels, kings, and paupers. Do what you have to do. Give what you have to give. This child was born for all of us. Whether we realize it or not, this is good news for all. Christmas is not a Christian holiday. It's not up to believers to make sure we get it right. We do not own him. He is God's gift to the world.
Which is why my heart is strangely warmed by crass Christmas decorations, and pagans singing Christmas carols, and signs that announce "Xmas Sale", and greeting cards that rely upon glib cliches.
None of us get it right. And, for some reason, I think Jesus wouldn't have it any other way.