The True Story of Christmas

Christmas is the season of bounty. Whatever we have, it seems, we have more of it at Christmas. More sweets, more food, more things. The cornucopia horn of blessing amplifies our typical delights and joys, as they — and our bellies –increase with each new feast and carol.

That is the official, retailer celebrated version of Christmas. It is the version that, with the children snug in their beds, the twinkle lights on and the hot chocolate poured, we choose to remember. But it is only one story of Christmas, and a rather trivial one at that.

The other story of Christmas is told in the pages of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” or Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Match Girl,” and in countless other tales of people less insulated from the chill of suffering.
 In these stories, as in the story of Christ’s birth, the wonder of Christmas is not the joy of getting, nor even in treasured time with family and friends. It is a story of giving, a celebration not of wealth, but of charity. In these stories, each Christmas, like the first Christmas, is an annual observance that life is sometimes unfair, that pain and sickness stalk the Earth, but that blessing triumphs over suffering, and generosity over want.

It is customary at Christmas for pastors to speak of the Reason for the Season, reminding congregants that Christ’s birth is the root of all this celebration and joy. We are admonished not to bury the manger under our piles of presents, nor neglect its sparse setting for more glorious decorations. But it is not enough to recognize Christ as the reason for Christmas; this season is about recognizing the reason for Christ.

Recall the story of a little baby, born into poverty, filth and want, sleeping among the animals, parented by a teenager. It is a tale that belongs to both the pages of history and the evening headlines. In homeless shelters and soup kitchens, in blighted urban areas and impoverished rural homes, the essentials of this scene are enacted again and again, year after year. Christ’s lowly birth is retold through the suffering and want of our neighbors.

More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born in Bethlehem not to bring us Xbox 360s, terrycloth robes and a new coffee pot, but the purest compassion and generosity the world has ever known.

This Christmas season may we, like the Magi, bring our gifts to the vulnerable baby, the impoverished father, and the teenage mother. May we be kind to the little matchstick girl, share our Christmas meal with the Cratchits, or follow King Wenceslaus through the snow to portion out presents. ‘Tis the season to love our neighbors, as we have so eagerly loved ourselves.

“Therefore, Christian men, be sure
“Wealth or rank possessing
“Ye who now will bless the poor
“Shall yourselves find blessing.”
— “Good King Wenceslaus”