All Jesus, All the Time
Every year some well-meaning person posts an image or e-card that reminds us that Christmas is not about presents, but “presence.” Or “it’s not about what’s under the tree, but who’s around it.”
I don’t want to be obnoxious, but no, it’s not. I mean, Christmas is certainly not about presents, but it’s also not about family, friendships, quality time together or “remembering what’s important in your lives.” Those are great things to celebrate and remember YEAR ROUND. But the religious holiday of Christmas? It’s about Jesus and the incarnation. It’s about light (Jesus) in the darkness (our world). It’s about hope (Jesus) and justice (Jesus again). It’s all Jesus, all the time.
And let’s not give Advent the short stick either. Advent is a special time in its own right.
You see, the nativity was not the climax to some great Advent story. The birth of Jesus was not anticipated with excitement; children did not count down the days until the arrival of the messiah. It was not the end of a great epic. It was the beginning. It’s very hard for me to imagine that Jesus was born into a world that was on one hand desperate for God, and yet no one except maybe Mary and Joseph (who would have been terrified given their situation), gave the slightest care about the infant son of poor parents who was born in a barn in Bethlehem.
Every nativity story I’ve witnessed has some scene where the star of Bethlehem appears blazing in the sky, and the people look up, and though they don’t know quite what has happened, you can see it on their faces ‒ that the world will never be the same. But with the beautiful exceptions of our wise men and the shepherds who witness the angels, the specifics of the Christmas story are unremarkable, and it’s infuriating to think we are celebrating a moment where Hope came into the world and only a very few people noticed.
Liturgically, we get a little anticipation and excitement for baby Jesus, but that’s at most HALF of what Advent is about. The other half is praying for Christ’s return to earth, for the new heaven and kingdom he brings when he comes. It is then will we see God’s plan for us revealed. A world with no war, a world with God’s presence on earth in such concrete form that those devoted to the Lord no longer must struggle and make prayerful decisions about God’s will, but instead can ask God directly and be answered in the same way we seek advice from friends. During Advent we are invited to enjoy the story of the incarnation, while patiently waiting for the sequel.
A lot of it looks like justice. It means to fight bigotry in all forms ‒ to affirm that each person is a beloved child of God no matter where they are from, what they look like, or any of the other categories we assign one another to prove how different we are.
It means caring for the poor and the oppressed. It means speaking for the voiceless. With each Christmassy thing we do, we cannot for one moment forget that our God and messiah came to earth an impoverished child of an unwed mother; born in filth and squalor and raised in a land that was not his own. The image of a blonde haired, blue eyed, plump and well-fed baby Jesus does us no favors.
So, Merry Christmas and Happy Advent, may your waiting be fruitful and may you spread light (Jesus), hope (more Jesus) and Justice (Jesus Jesus Jesus!) wherever you go.
Rev. Kelly Staples is Associate Pastor and Director of Youth Ministries for NorthPark Presbyterian. She grew up a member of First Presbyterian Church of Shreveport, received her Bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University, and her Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
The other item I am unclear about is that the birth of Jesus was not known to “the world” the coming of a Messiah was long expected. That is why, at least to me, the Gospel of St. John 1:10-11 is so meaningful and beautiful because it speaks about Christ coming into the world but the world not recognizing Him. But those who received Him become children of God.
Just offering this as another perspective on the Gospels.