Christmas is a dogmatic truth grounded in a historical fact – no wonder some people hate it.
Our modern world detests dogma. It insists that truth is relative and that nothing can be set in stone, since things set in stone allow no wriggle room for those who find them problematic.
(Let’s be honest, we all find at least one of the Ten Commandments – annoyingly written in stone – at least a little inconvenient.)
So, while I am allowed to talk about ‘my truth’ and am encouraged to acknowledge ‘your truth’ I will be denounced if I dare to speak about ‘the truth’. On this point, our modern world is dogmatic. Everything is fluid – and that is set in stone.
Christmas is nothing if it is not dogmatic.
2000 years ago, Christmas declares the Invisible has become visible. It insists that the Absolute has become particular. Ideal has become real. Spirit has become flesh. God has become a man.
This assertion destroys the idea that all religions are basically the same.
Many religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, claim God is so present that the divine spark is literally in everything and so Christmas is nothing special.
Other religions, such as Islam, claim God is so transcendent that it is impossible He could become one of us. Christmas is blasphemy.
Christianity is unique. It says that God is so present it is possible for Him to become flesh. It also says God is so transcendent that Him taking on human form is the most incredible event in history.
But Christmas is not just a unique spiritual belief for those who are inclined toward the mystical. Christmas is boldly historical.
Christmas claims that, around 2000 years ago, God physically inserted Himself into human affairs. The virgin birth, the crucifixion, and the resurrection are all true. They really did happen.
This stands in contrast to the modern depiction of Christmas as a legend that encourages us to love our neighbour, care for the poor, and to generally be kind. The modern understanding of Christmas insists that it doesn’t matter if the Bethlehem story never happened, so long as we learn principles found in the narrative and become better people.
The irony is that this too is dogma.
When we say it ‘doesn’t matter’ whether the Christmas story is true – that Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we deserved to die – so long as we take the principles and apply them, we are insisting that we are not so bad that we need help, even from God.
It is the insistence that if we sincerely try to apply whatever life lessons we can draw from Christmas (and we will judge whether we have been sincere as well as which life-lessons are applicable) then God, or the Universe, or karma, or whatever you want to call the divine – owes us.
Those who reject the historicity of Christmas because they don’t like its dogma do so to assert their own dogma. See, you cannot avoid dogma. It is the ugly dogma of self-righteousness that now infects every area of society, dividing us against each other and even against ourselves.
If Jesus did not come, then the Christmas story is just a moral paradigm to encourage pride in those who believe they are living up to it, and despair in those who are struggling. Far from bringing hope and change, it only serves to compound the world’s problems.
But what if the Christmas story is true?
Legendary television host Larry King was once asked if he could interview anyone from history but ask only one question, who would he quiz and what would he ask?
‘I would ask Jesus if the virgin birth was true,’ he shot back immediately, understanding Christmas changes everything if it is true.
First, it would fulfil our deep need for the mystical.
Modern men seek transcendent meaning by turning good things into ultimate things and so corrupt everything.
Caring for the environment, for example, is a good thing. But when it becomes the prism through which everything must be viewed (the ultimate thing) it, along with everything else, is corrupted.
Environmentalism is just one area in which we have sought transcendence. We could talk about feminism, libertarianism, socialism, anti-racism, and so on.
If Jesus is God, then we no longer need to corrupt the political and social order to find meaning. Ultimate meaning is suddenly accessible and relatable – not as a concept but as a person.
Moreover, we don’t have to guess at what God might be like. We can know Him as a friend.
This doesn’t mean material things no longer matter. Far from it. If Christmas is true, the second effect is to increase our regard for people and for the world in which we live.
If God took on physical flesh and came into the world, then humans (even the most vulnerable) are intrinsically valuable and the world is incredibly important. This is not my truth, or your truth, but – to steal a phrase – it is God’s own truth.
Third, if Christmas is a historical event that explains reality, then it transforms our understanding of relationships.
The God of the universe was so intent on having a relationship with us that He entered our world rather than demand we enter His and then He spent 30 years understanding us before seeking to make Himself understood.
If God was willing to enter our messy world, how can we not be willing to take time to understand those with whom we disagree? Imagine how different our homes, let alone our civil discourse, would be if we freely gave to others what we believed we had received from God – genuine understanding.
Finally, if Christmas is real, it changes the way we think of ourselves.
The idea that we were so lost that God Himself had to enter time and space to save us is deeply humbling, leaving no room for pride. The fact that He thought us worth dying for is deeply encouraging, leaving no room for despair.
If God came to earth – not metaphorically but actually – then Christmas is not a momentary distraction from the mounting crises we face. It is the answer. Or rather, Jesus is the answer.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.