I’ve never liked the phrase “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

It’s fine with me when people write “Xmas” instead of “Christmas.”

I think the “war on Christmas” (as I wrote last week) is falsely-hyped nonsense. 

Pardon my grouchiness this close to the big day, but when earnest, well-meaning Christians say we need to “keep Christ in Christmas,” it’s hard to resist saying things like:

1. It’s not about the baby. Even before he was born, Jesus’ mother knew a thing or two about what his life (and death) would mean. It had little to do with cradles and creches and Christmas angels, and everything to do with raw power and the vulnerable poor: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The Christ of Christmas turns everything upside down and knocks everything sideways (like tables in the Temple and our own safe, soft, sentimental faith).

2. It’s not about family values. Create and savor all the family holiday traditions you want — the eating and drinking, the fun and games — it’s all good. But don’t confuse family togetherness (which is usually more imagined than actual) with the good news of the Incarnation: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” The Christ of Christmas hardly endorses the agenda of Focus on the Family. In the Church, baptism trumps biology, and thank God for that.

3. It’s not even about Christmas. Easter is the Church’s primary feast day, the festival on which hangs “the hopes and fears of all the years.” The feast of the nativity was a minor observance in the Christian year until the mid-nineteenth century when commercial interests figured out how to exploit it solely for profit. (Clement Moore’s popular poem also contributed to the American mythology of Christmas: St. Nicholas morphed into Santa, and reindeer, stockings, and sugar plums entered the story). The Christ mass, by contrast, is “the feast of Nicene dogma” and the Christ of Christmas is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos of God made flesh. 

For all the preachiness of my three points, I hope there is also a grace-filled word of encouragement in their essentials: The Jesus who comes into the world naked, homeless, and vulnerable is the Christ who comes to each of us in our own godforsakenness. And we know this not because of the cradle but because of the cross. The journey to Bethlehem, the risky birth in a barn, the flight to Egypt — these are not mere Christmas-pageant moments in a perpetually-adolescent faith; rather they are reminders of the historical dangers, the sheer contingency on which a mature, disciplined faith must rest: into a world of violence, fear, and misery, God came.

And into our own violent, fearful, miserable lives, God continues to come.