Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Reflection

As I understand it, the entire Christmas season as we currently celebrate it is chiefly a product of the Victorian era.  Think of those Currier & Ives postcards.  Prior to the 19th Century, Easter was the more significant Christian holiday and was recognized as such by nearly everyone in the West.  If you are a Christian today, Easter remains, at least theologically, the more important of the two occasions and if you were asked, you would no doubt concede as much.  But, as a consequence, the fact that we don't invest the same emotional energy, let alone all the attendant folderol, in Easter as we do Christmas, serves to shame us  a bit.  Should it?

Perhaps.  But I think there's a more substantive reason for the disparity than the mere fact that we've become foolishly trapped in a tradition that is actually of fairly recent vintage, or even that we've simply fallen victim to the siren song of commercialism. ("Make a buck, make a buck.")

Theologians sometimes refer to the "already and not yet" character of the Christian faith.  That is, in Christ's life, death, and resurrection the final victory is "already" won.  Righteousness and life have triumphed forever over sin and death.  Christ's perfect sacrifice is indeed "once for all".

But, as we know, and cannot deny, in this life, on this side of Paradise, sin still abounds and death's sting still abides.  Therefore, the victory assured by the empty tomb of Easter remains for us in a very real sense "not yet".

As a result, the Christian life we actually live retains much of the feel of "promise" about it.  That is, we experience it more like a journey than a journey's end.

 I think Christmas, as it marks the beginning of the Life whose end would make all the difference, retains that feel.  At Christmas, we remember and celebrate the beginning of the Life that is then not yet finished, even as our new life is not yet finished as well.

Might it be the case that we have come to celebrate Christmas more than we do Easter at least in part because we can identify with it more?  If so, then whatever sin we are guilty of for that inequity, I'm confident we'll find mercy nonetheless.  Why?  Because for what purpose other did God become man than to secure our forgiveness, forgiveness even for this?  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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