Blog Template Theology of the Body: "Merry Christmas" as A Light to Enlighten the Nations

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Merry Christmas" as A Light to Enlighten the Nations

I love Christmas lights. I love the enormous UNICEF snowflake hanging over Fifth and Madison in Manhattan, which, by the way, is composed entirely of Baccurat crystal, and I've always loved the humbler lit garlands at the Yale Club. And most of all, I love neighborhood Christmas lights- homespun works of art that make the magical shapes of the trees stand out in stark celebration against the night sky. I love it.

It seems to me that like all publicly displayed Christmas decorations, neighborhood Christmas lights strike a small chord of anxiety in the hearts of a lot of serious Christians. We wonder, do the good people who bedeck their storefronts and homefronts for Christmas know Christ? Do they know that He is "the reason for the season"? And if they do not, why are they parading around as though they did? After all, Christmas is properly our holiday; Christmas is the natal celebration for those who will in a few short months commemorate a Crucifixion.

I so often get the sense that we Christians want to urge the waiting world at Christmas, "hold on a minute. This is our holiday. It is serious and spiritual, and you clearly do not understand it. Please do not mess with it. Don't commercialize it, exploit it, or dilute it. This is about our Christ, and if you don't know Him, why are you acting as though you did?" In fact, in an effort to avoid the "world's" seemingly cheapened holidays, we Christians may anxiously turn our attention to "reforming" Christmas, asceticizing it, "putting Christ back into Christmas," etc. Does this ring a bell?

But I love the fact that at Christmas all the world rejoices. I really love the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry gets caught up in this most accessible of "our" holidays. In fact, it is most right that everyone joins in at the Christian's Christmas, regardless of the state of their present salvation/sanctification/enlightenment. Because Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnationof God, Christmas truly is for all people. God Himself, the Creator of the Universe, took on (universal) human flesh and the entirety of human experience at His conception and birth. This event is not only the beginning of the hope that is consummated at Calvary; it is the objective, effective beginning of our salvation.

The early Fathers had much to say about the idea that the Incarnation itself is redemptive, in as much as the original intimacy between humanity and God is restored by the simple fact of God uniting our own flesh and reality entirely to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth. Because of the Incarnation, all people are already in some sense united with Christ, and are re-created and re-dignified by Him. As Athanasius puts it in De Incarnatione Verbi 54, by God's Incarnation the image of God is already in some way restored to humanity in general: “for He was made man that we might be made God… He descends that we may ascend, without in any way losing His oneness with the Father, He descends to infuse our perishing flesh with Himself… so that we ascend to share in His unity with the Father (as those who do not have this substance by nature.” Aquinas follows suit: "from the beginning of His conception Christ merited our eternal salvation." Summa Theologiae III.48.1

Thus in the mere reality of Christ's Incarnation all who merely share Christ's human flesh are raised a bit nearer to Heaven and to the heart of God. And as the angels put it, "in the town of Bethlehem is born to you this day a Savior... which shall be to all people."

...So let the whole weary world rejoice in its rather kitschy and bedecked way, and let the unbaptized, unwashed masses bedeck their lawns, and let whosoever will drive by and enjoy the implicit celebration of the Savior of the world. In the sheer grace of Christ having assumed our nature, His salvation is in some way already theirs...our's...everyone's.