Unadorned Christmas

I recently saw a social media post using a peppermint candy cane to illustrate the Christmas story, because you can turn it upside down and it becomes the letter “j” for Jesus.

What!?

Year by year, I am amazed how much we continue to add to the relatively simple story of God’s love as found in the Bible.

In a court of law, we draw upon eyewitness testimony to establish facts. We try to distinguish between that testimony and additions by people who were not even present. In the Bible, the eyewitness testimony of men and women of God has been recorded and has stood for 2000 years. Yet we seem to feel some compulsion to add culture and myth to the story in some kind of weird attempt to enhance it and make it more popular. Do we really think we can do better than God has already done?

There is no Santa Claus. No Father Christmas, no Kris Kringle or any other identity we’d like to give to an overweight man in a red suit. For the most part, we all realize that. There was no Christmas tree or gaily wrapped packages; no stockings, elves, or Grinch in Bethlehem. There was not even a drummer boy or innkeeper.

For the most part these things are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. They lose any sort of positive value, however, when they undermine or take the place of the true story.

When we take away everything that is not recorded in Scripture we are left with a story that has been described as “the greatest story ever told.” This is a story of God’s love for and redemption of a lost humanity. It is best summarized in a very familiar verse of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

For hundreds of years before the events we know of as Christmas, God had promised and predicted that he would send a Savior who could take away the debt of sin and restore people throughout the entire earth to a pure relationship with God. God’s predictions, as recorded in the Bible, were so specific that when the wise men of the East traveled to Jerusalem to ask where they might find the newborn King of the Jews, the teachers in Jerusalem immediately knew to send them to the village of Bethlehem. Other predictions foretold the genealogical line of his birth, the miraculously unheard-of virgin birth, a post-birth trip to Egypt, and subsequent residence in the area known as Galilee.

When God chose to bring his plan to fruition, he sent an angel to a young Jewish woman named Mary with these words, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:26-38). Mary’s fiancé, a man named Joseph, received a similar angelic visit, with this message “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.’” (Matthew 1:18:25).

Luke 2:1-18 describes the actual birth event of the child named Jesus, called the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, and God with us. Within a few weeks of the day we celebrate as Christmas, God used a local man named Simeon to sum up what had taken place with the words, “. . . my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:22-35).

That is Christmas, but it is only the beginning of what we celebrate as the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. As with the shepherds who saw the newborn Jesus and went on their way praising God, and Simeon who boldly spoke the words above in the very public Jewish Temple of Jerusalem, we have the responsibility and joyful privilege of sharing the story with the world.

The story, as it appears in Scripture, is true, valid, and very powerful. As we mix it with human traditions and sentimentality, it becomes less so. We must be very careful what we share with those who do not yet understand God’s program. We want them to be able to know the truth and only the truth. As it also says in the Bible, the truth shall set them free.