I never understand more than at Christmas why people become atheists. Often I can understand it and empathize with the feelings and questions that led people there, but at Christmastime, I feel it so much more. It just makes sense.
Jesus was born, and where did that get the people of his village, which probably included some of his relatives? A small genocide. You won’t see that on any Christmas cards. O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Advent is supposed to be a time of waiting. Of sitting in the darkness, the people waiting to see a great light. Everyone is waiting for hope to arrive, waiting for rescue. How long, O Lord, how long?
It’s been 2,000 years and the world is no different today than it was when Jesus was born; arguably the times it has been especially bad has been because of things done in his name.
What was the point? Why bother being born? What good has it really done the world?
I was listening to Christian radio the other day, because they actually play decent Christmas music. During a break the DJ was going on about prayer and how if you need your life to be on a new trajectory, just pray and boom, God will put your life on a new path. I’m not sure when the story of God and Aladdin’s genie got switched, but can someone get me an oil lamp? I don’t know why people assume God is just out there waiting to just reach down and arrange us like we’re little chess pieces. If he’s doing that, he’s a spectacularly bad chess player. He obviously seems very opposed to magically intervening in tragic world affairs, which is too bad, because there are so many people who could use a magic genie.
Jesus is the reason for the season, they say, but those who say that just gave into their basest fears and elected a dangerous treasonous narcissist to lead our country. So why exactly do they follow a God who constantly tells them to not fear? What is the point?
I look out at the world and on the whole I see nothing fundamentally different because of Christmas. Because of Jesus.
One of our traditions has always been to do a Jesse tree. Years ago I made ornaments, and each day in December, we hang one and read the verses. I pulled it out this year and looked at it, and announced we weren’t doing it. We will do something different this year and next year I’ll make a new one. When I looked at it, I read through the verses, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. The premise of the Jesse tree is to show the story of Jesus through the Bible, but it is predicated on people being terrible sinners, and that Jesus was born so that he could die for our sins, and I just don’t believe that anymore. Jesus dying for people’s sins has done nothing to make the world a better place. I don’t believe he was born so that he could die. I believe Jesus was born to show us how to live.
Sin didn’t magically disappear because Jesus was born, died, or rose again. What if Jesus didn’t come to deliver us from SIN, but to deliver us from how we treat each other? What if he came to show us how to love the marginalized, how to welcome the stranger, and what it means to be free? What if he came to show us how to resist an empire, how to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God?
And maybe the point of Christmas isn’t even why he came, but simply that he came. Christmas reminds us that we are not alone. He came to be with us in the midst of our pain, our grief, our utter helplessness, our paralyzing fears.
My absolute favorite Christmas carol is O Come O Come Emmanuel. I love the tension between the words Emmanuel and Israel. One means ‘God with us’, and the other, ‘wrestles with God’.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.
I love the tension in this song because it’s at Christmas when I mostly don’t believe, and yet at the same time I become the most faithful.
As I sit this year, terrified of the future, I take comfort in the fact that even if we aren’t delivered from it, we are not alone.
As one of my favorite Christmas poems says,
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!