So, This is Christmas? (360)

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

– John Lennon, from his song, Happy Xmas

I first heard this John Lennon song as a teenager in 1972. Although the written lyrics don’t have question marks after the first two lines, I’ve always heard those lines as questions, as in “So, this is Christmas? And what have you done?” Knowing Lennon’s public agnosticism, his questions have always been challenges to me, as in: “If this is Christmas, the birth of God’s Son as all you Christians claim, then has this even changed the way you live your life one bit? Or, is this just about vague, good wishes for peace and love, hoping we’ll all be a little more kind and a little less Scrooge-like with one another in the coming year?” Quite appropriate questions to ask.

Lennon’s song took the pulse of the culture (and it still does 45 years later). If anything, his questions continue to expose an even greater chasm between what we Christians celebrate at Christmas and how we actually incarnate that truth in the way we live. And it’s overly facile for Christians to blame this on the cultural Christmas we’ve come to experience and endure, believing that if we’d all just begin saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays,” then somehow this chasm would be closed. This may make a particular Christian feel good, but it’s really a form of self-distraction leading to an even dangerous form of self-righteousness, vainly believing that by saying those magic words we’re somehow fighting some external “war” on Christmas.

Such distractions and self-righteousness lead us away from the real repentance to which Christmas calls us all. That’s the real “war.” It’s inside of us. It’s us futilely believing that if we just tried a bit harder to be better Christians and fight some external “war,” then somehow everything will be fine. But that’s a fool’s errand. Besides, it fundamentally denies the essence of God’s incarnation in Christ. For what happened at Christmas was actually God saying to us: “You can’t fix yourselves, let alone fix the world. You’re not even self-aware enough to know just how powerful sin’s grip is on your life. I’m therefore sending my son, Jesus, to free you from the consequences of your sin.”

To reference Lennon: Christmas isn’t about what “we have done” or even what we might do. It’s about what God has done. God has shown us mercy in sending Jesus to take on our humanity, to show us God’s very nature through his life and teaching, and then to die for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Our only response then at Christmas is to declare that the “war” is over and we’ve lost it. And when we recognize ourselves to be the real losers we are, then maybe for the first time, we’re capable of trusting that Jesus has won for us what we couldn’t win for ourselves: God’s eternal acceptance, better known as God’s amazing grace. That’s what really makes Christmas “merry” for us all.




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