Christmas is problematic, perhaps more now than ever. Why? Well, what’s Christmas about? For most people it is not about the birth of Jesus. For most of us Christmas is a time where we get together with family and friends and exchange gifts. We enact rituals of togetherness and exchange and hope for connectivity, fun, beauty, safety and even a kind of romance- at least a romantic image of peace and love among those we are closest to. You see the problem. At Christmas time we are devoted to a vision of a small kingdom where things go as we would like, where our feelings, our sentiments, our longings are king and treated like royalty- worshipped and obeyed. Yet the world is not designed that way. In fact the world seems designed to disrupt our petty kingdoms and point us toward the true King, whose kingdom is peaceable because his riches can be endlessly shared and because He is, as the gospel shows, a servant king.
The world is a veil of soul-making, as Irenaus asserted so long ago, and the soul we are to make is in the image of that servant King. When we swear fealty to that King of Kings, that humble master who gives up His life so others may live, than we enter the Kingdom of the cross. In this Kingdom we die to self so that we may live. The life we live is not the life of the flesh (ie. ego) but eternal life. This life is the life given by God, and is therefore endless. It is not a destruction of our true selves, but a revelation of our true name, written on the white stone given to those who conquer by the enthroned Lamb. Yet we only learn this name by letting go of the names whispered by the flesh, the world and the devil. This is not easy. As joyous and vital as it often is it is also painful and difficult, like a caterpillar’s journey beyond it’s birthing form.
When we try to establish our own Kingdom, even a seemingly innocuous one, we are led into violence. Our Kingdom becomes “of this world”. We may think we are seeking a simple, peaceful holiday: a nice dinner, to be loved, to be understood, to celebrate and be celebrated. Yet we are seeking our own Kingdom, and if we do not get our way we will fight for it. Our vision of “peace on earth and goodwill to all” will then take its nightmare turn, our vision blurring as if we’d taken that one drink too many. We will fight, and we will lose. How many families enter Christmas sidestepping the mines left in their internal theatre by the battles of Christmas past? How ironic that the holiday of peace invites war, spurred on by cranky, overfed digestions and a few too many armed and lethal eggnogs.
The fact is that we will be forever unhappy if insist on making Christmas about us. If we truly make is about others, about giving, not in any way about receiving, than the season will surely bless us. Even better, if we make it about Christ- about service, about God, about love- than we will leave behind the kingdom of the world and its violence and enjoy the peace of the cruciform Kingdom.