The Challenge of Christmas

Christmas is five days away. Every holiday season brings with it a variety pack of joy, angst, drama, and controversy. People are preparing to see their extended families. We’re purchasing and wrapping gifts, making dinners and desserts, attending parties, and trying to keep our sanity through it all.

One of the “controversies” that you can count on is the so-called War on Christmas. I consider it a manufactured controversy. No one that I know cares about Starbucks cups or if the cashier says, “Happy Holidays.” The War on Christmas is a distraction. There is a war going on at Christmas, but the battle is not on coffee shop cups or in the newsroom. The real war is the challenge posed to all of us by Christmas.

The Grand Miracle

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

Christmas is the story of God invading our world to overthrow its rulers and establish his kingdom. The heart of that story is the Incarnation. This doctrine of Christianity says that the immortal, immaterial God became a mortal, material man in Jesus. John described Jesus’ incarnation in his gospel as the Word, which is God and is eternal, becoming flesh and dwelling among us on earth (Jn. 1:1–4, 14).

The Incarnation is the chief miracle of Christianity. It is the miracle of all miracles. There would be no Christianity without the Incarnation, for it is upon this story that all Christian distinction is built. C. S. Lewis once preached a Christmas sermon titled “The Grand Miracle.” In that sermon, he said that “the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle.”

Christians cannot just do away with this story. We cannot say that it is the product of a pre-scientific culture that would blindly accept any supernatural claim. As Lewis notes, Christianity is all about this grand miracle. Therefore, we cannot have Christianity without the Incarnation.

So, Christianity is the victory of God’s conquest at Christmas. I think we don’t recognize that Christmas is a challenge and an invasion of our world. God became a man to win the world for his own rule. One of the implications of the Christmas conquest is how it challenges our love for power.

Christmas Challenges Power

The Incarnation says that God became a man. The invincible, immortal, omnipotent Lord willingly became a human being. If Jesus was the eternal Word before his incarnation — as John claimed — then that means that he moved from a position of power and security to a place of vulnerability and weakness.

Consider what this means. If Jesus was God before he became a man, then he was the only self-sufficient being in existence. He did not rely on anything outside of himself to sustain his life. In contrast, everything that exists in our world, for all of history, has come into existence and was maintained by the presence of other beings and objects. Every child has parents. Every animal was spawned by other animals. Every plant was the seed of another plant. We are all the result of a heritage of people — parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. We are indebted to them for our existence. However, we are also indebted to many other people and organism for our survival. We depend upon society to provide goods and services that are necessary for us to live. We have to rely on plants and animals to be the food that nourishes our bodies. Our food also needs food, and parents, and so on.

The point is that Jesus went from a state of self-sufficiency to extreme weakness. Suddenly, at the Incarnation, his body was reliant on the nourishment of his mother, Mary. As he grew, he needed food, protection, and society to support him. Why did he do it?

He descended into a form of vulnerability and weakness so that he could ascend in glory. Jesus’ incarnation was the step down that was necessary for the later step up. He had to become vulnerable so that he could die and be risen from the dead. When Jesus rose from the dead, he lifted up humanity with him to one day experience a resurrection like his (Rom. 6:5–11). So, Jesus descended from his position of power to live in our place of weakness, that way he might bring us up out of our fault.

First, Christmas is a challenge to material power. It says that those who are in a position of power and privilege must use that position for the benefit of others. According to the Incarnation, there is only one way to lift up the weak — give away your power. This challenge is clearly relevant to those who rule in government, large corporations, and other organizations.

However, it is also a challenge to the everyday person. What kind of power do you have that can be given away for the sake of others? Our world is not fair. Some of us have been born into positions of greater privilege than others. Others have been born with a lack of power but rose into a place of affluence and authority. No matter where you are in the hierarchy of society you have some power in your life that may be leveraged for the benefit of someone who is vulnerable. It might be a voice, a platform, an education, talents and skills, money, or time.

If you can identify the privilege that God has given you, then you are expected to use that privilege to raise up others. Christians should be people who understand that the way to do this is to descend so that others may ascend. That’s the challenge of the Incarnation to power. Lewis said, “[The Incarnation] will not, in any way, allow me to be an exploiter, to act as a parasite on other people; yet it will not allow me any dream of living on my own. It will teach me to accept with glad humility the enormous sacrifice that others make for me, as well as to make sacrifices for others.”

Lewis’s quote shows how this principle of the Incarnation also cuts another way. Christmas, if you truly get it, is lethal to pride. First, it is a challenge to the pride that comes from power. This principle that Jesus descended into vulnerability to raise up others into glory is reflected across all of life. The power and privilege that I may hold — more often than not — comes from the opportunities, gifts, and help of other people. No one is truly “self-made” and the Incarnation reminds us of that truth.

Second, it is a challenge to spiritual power. Christmas was only the beginning of Christ’s descent into vulnerability. For God to become man means that God has become breakable. Jesus’ is open to the dangers that come with being a human being on our planet. He experiences the pains and perils of human experience. However, his ultimate vulnerability was displayed on the cross when he was executed. Jesus was made vulnerable so that he could be broken. In his crucifixion, he is the perfect juxtaposition of authority and vulnerability. No one takes his life from him (Jn. 10:17); yet, God bleeds at Calvary.

The whole point of that crucifixion was to purchase our salvation. Paul says that God accomplished what we could have never accomplished on our own when Jesus died (Rom. 8:1–4). The gospel is an assault on the pride which could cause us to think that we are people who deserve God’s love.

Every person is tempted to believe that he or she is a good person. We each want to think that we could stand before the throne of God, show our credentials, and receive our entry into the pearly gates. Christmas challenges this notion of spiritual power just as it does material power. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that his kingdom was only for the spiritually poor (Matt. 5:3).

The Incarnation is an indictment against our spiritual power. We are so unable to earn our way to heaven or to save ourselves that God had to become a man and do it for us. He lived the life we were supposed to live and suffered the death that we deserved. Since he did that for us, we can receive the future that only Jesus earned. If a person truly understands that message, then it should crush every ounce of spiritual pride.

Christmas Demands a Response

The Incarnation makes Christmas something that we cannot remain ambivalent about. If God did invade our world and achieved salvation for us, then we must respond by giving him our life. We must imitate his incarnation by risking our authority, privilege, and security to raise up the vulnerable. We will have to face the fatal blow to our pride. Otherwise, Christmas is a myth, and we are free to soak up power at the cost of whomever we please.

Can you live that way? We intuitively know that those who exploit the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized for the sake of their own gain are wrong. None of us want to live in a world where that is permissible. You can go on believing in justice and believing that those with privilege should use their position to empower the vulnerable, but can you find a story that supports those beliefs better than the Incarnation? In other words, when I find a story that appears to make so much sense of reality, one that resonates with the convictions intuitively held by my heart, shouldn’t I consider that this story might be true? I hope you will make that consideration.