Christmas can often feel empty — like the magic and meaning are just out of our grasp. Like we're missing something. There is this sense that Christmas is supposed to be big and important, but we sometimes struggle to see how it matters. We try to fill up this emptiness, this vacuum of magic and meaning with things that end up only re-confirming the emptiness: the myth of Santa Claus, the myth that presents make you happy or that you can buy happiness. We even try making Christmas about spending time with family, but even this misses the powerful significance of Christmas. A season that is supposed to be about hope, love, healing, and a sense of coming home often leaves people feeling more alone, poorer, more alienated and emptier.
One of the biggest reasons we often don't "get" Christmas, or miss it so badly, is that we approach it like someone who has jumped into the middle of a movie or a book at a major moment, expecting to be affected by it. What we celebrate at Christmas is a major turn of events in the middle of an epic story of love, redemption, and rescue. More than that, what happened at Christmas is not just a major turn of events in an epic story, but THE epic story — our story, the story of humanity and God's relationship with humanity, with us. This is why Christmas and the Advent season aren't just about some supposedly bizarre occurrence of a young virgin giving birth to a baby that happened in a time and place completely removed from our own.
Christmas has everything to do with our world and our lives today, because it is a major shift in the epic story in which we live. It shapes how we see others and how we relate to each other, to God, and to ourselves.
This epic story, like so many other epics, begins in tragedy and you can't experience the joy of Christmas until you've experienced the weight of the tragedy. Since the Christmas event is a pivotal moment in this epic story that is a part of all of us, there is a part of us that intrinsically knows there is tragedy here. It is the place in us that sees broken and messed up things in our world and in ourselves and says (sometimes very loudly), "Things shouldn't be this way!"
The epic begins in tragedy. God began creating things, loved what he created and then kept on creating until the world was made. Lastly, God scraped together the dust of the ground, formed it into the shape of human beings, then breathed God's breath — God's Spirit, into them and then gave them the whole world to take care of and enjoy. They lived in a world where nature, humanity, and God all lived together in perfect harmony, a world unconstrained by time and unmarked by death.
Then one day, the people decided that they no longer trusted God. Thinking that maybe God was holding out on them, they decided that they should be the ultimate authority in their own lives and they rejected God. When they did, as God had warned them, the harmony that they had known with God, with themselves and with nature began to unravel. They did begin to have new abilities and knowledge that they had never had before, but they were only things that brought them heartache and pain: the ability to deceive, the knowledge of guilt and shame. Humanity and the world were changed forever.
Christmas is about God making a major move to restore all that was lost that day. It is about God coming to rescue and restore a broken people living in a broken world. Christmas is about the hope that all the things that are broken will one day be made whole. It is the assurance to those who feel the farthest from God — the lonely, the oppressed, the poor, the overlooked — that they are loved, known, and remembered by God. It is a major moment full of magic and meaning that is very worth celebrating.
The Rev. Nathan Dean, a resident of Edgewood, is co-pastor of the Edgewood Church in Kirkwood.