Christmas, What art thou?
Christmas is a festive season of celebration. Both Christians and non-Christians celebrate this feast with much joy. For some it’s the beginning of the holiday season that often brings family and friends together along with gifts. For others, it’s the season when we uncontrollably indulge in extravagant lunches and dinners (me…).
I think it’s true to say that in our theologically thin times, we find ourselves surrounded by ever-evolving meanings of Christmas. Some defensive Christians have made Christmas all about ‘keeping Christ in Christmas’ while others have ‘de-sacralized’ this feast by making it an annual pilgrimage to the temple of capitalism.
I often turn to the Church fathers in these hazy and confused times when having clarity has become a sin. They are my friends from whom I glean mature wisdom.
Here’s what one of my best friends, Augustine, wrote about Christmas and it’s beauty.
christ the incarnate word taking flesh
Firstly, Augustine introduces us to the baby in the manger. Unlike modern portraits, the helpless baby is never severed from his divinity.
Augustine writes, “The Word of the Father, through which time was made, became flesh and made his birthday in time, and willed a single day for his human birth, he without whose divine permission no day rolls round. With the Father he precedes all the spaces of ages; born this day of a mother, he inserted himself into the courses of the years. The maker of man was made man so that the ruler of the stars might suck at breasts, bread might hunger, the fountain might thirst, light might sleep, the way might be wearied by a journey, truth might be accused by false witnesses, the judge of the living and the dead might be judged by a mortal judge, justice might be condemned by the unjust, discipline might be beaten with whips, the cluster of grapes might be crowned with thorns, the foundation might be hung from a tree, strength might be weakened, health might be wounded, life might die”.
How beautiful is the paradox of Christmas! To think that the very Creator through whom all flesh was made would take on flesh. The child in the manger is no ordinary child. He is fully God and fully man.
christ as our crucified saviour
Secondly, Augustine never separates Christmas from Good Friday. The doctor of the church says, ‘He suffered these and like indignities for us so that he might free the unworthy. He who did no evil suffered such great evils for our sakes, while we who deserved nothing good through him have received such great goods. For the sake of all this, he who was the Son of God before all the ages, without a beginning of days, deigned to be a son of man in the last days, and the One who was born, not made, of the Father was made in the mother whom he had made, so that he might exist here and now, made from the mother, from the woman who except for him would never ever herself have been able to exist.”
The bread of life became hungry to feed us starving-hungry people with life. The second member of the Holy trinity became man to redeem and save people. He was not merely a helpless baby but a conquering Lord who came with a mission and he fearlessly accomplished it.
We are just scratching the surface of the Church Father’s rich theology.
Nonetheless, Augustine gives us the true meaning of Christmas. Unlike many modern carols that only ever see Christ as a baby in a manger, Augustine tells us that the very God left his throne in glory to become man so that he could save us in this time of Christmas.
All quotes are from Sermon 191, 1; PL 38, 1010