Christmas Isn’t That Important

How we present the birth of Jesus is important. It is not simply a prelude to a death (though it is that), but it is first of all the prelude to a life which challenges the basic assumptions of contemporary society.

I realise that the title of this blog post is slightly controversial, but let me pose one simple question; if Christmas really is that important, how come two of the four Gospels don’t mention it at all?

Let me push this slightly further; the Gospels that do mention Christmas, Matthew and Luke each consecrate less than two chapters to the story. Let’s be generous and call that four full chapters across the Gospels. In terms of chapters, this is 4.5% of the Gospel narrative.

Now, my problem is not so much that we spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about the birth of Jesus (though, I’d suggest we do), it is that we (at least those of us of an evangelical persuasion) don’t spend enough time talking about the life and teaching of Jesus. We rush from Christmas to Easter, from the manger to the cross, with barely a thought for the intervening thirty or so years. We have a tendency to present Jesus as someone who was born and died, without giving a lot of thought to the fact that he also lived.

OK, let me backtrack a little. I do think that Christmas is important; it is important because of what it symbolises and what it leads into. It shows us that God is intimately interested in life on this planet; he lived here and experienced the highs and the lows of human existence. He also taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as well as in heaven.

This is important.

We live in a society which tries to drive a wedge between the physical and spiritual, between the sacred and the secular. It tells us that religion belongs in the spiritual/sacred world and is simply a matter of opinion and should be kept private and away from public life. We unwittingly play into this narrative when we focus on the birth and death of Jesus but not on his life. We place him in the spiritual world allowing society to conveniently sideline him and his teachings.

However, the gritty Jesus of the Gospels, who walked the roads of Palestine and got hungry, thirsty and tired, cannot be so easily pushed aside by our society. His message of the Kingdom is decidedly uncomfortable and challenges social, economic and political orthodoxies.

In a post-Englightenment world which only places value on that which can be measured and verified, the life of Jesus (which is well attested in contemporary documents) stands as a challenge to society. It shows that there is a reality behind our message. It also shows that Christianity is not just about airy-fairy, spiritual, pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die stuff. Jesus does not present life on earth as being little more than a waiting room for heaven, he gives it value and importance, he announces the reign of God on our little planet. How we live now matters and to misquote the carol, “he is our life’s pattern”.

As I said yesterday, I think Christmas is a wonderful opportunity for evangelism. However, I think that how we present the birth of Jesus is important. It is not simply a prelude to a death (though it is that), but it is first of all the prelude to a life which challenges the basic assumptions of contemporary society. Christians and non-Christians alike need to grasp this.

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3 replies on “Christmas Isn’t That Important”

This is Tom Wright’s point in his book How God Became King. The Apostles Creed goes from ‘born of the Virgin Mary’ straight to ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’. NTW says, Hang on! What about the bit in between?

Hi stranger,
i have just got into a probably unnecessary barny with friends over your article on Apologising to the ladies of Bethlehem. I didnt think it was all that good – my friends thought it was wonderful
So i thought i’d see – who is this bloke.
A bible translator – blimey a genuinely heroic calling – especially compared to us luxury living Aust clerics,
Anyhow – on this article – i agree that something is wrong if we only see the birth of Jesus as a means to get to the cross. I also think the life and teaching of Jesus matters – BIG time
But the creeds do jump from birth to death – as 1 for 15 goes straight to Cross.
there must also be something in that way of thinking
and there is plant of evdience form outside NT of his death under pilate (roman and jewish) – as you know

Hi Ian, good to hear from you. Sorry that I got you into a barny.

I agree with everything you say (except the bit about me having a heroic calling). The creeds go straight from Bethlehem to the Cross, with nothing but a comma between them and as you say, there must be value in this as it has stood for over 1500 years. However, there is also value in taking a slower journey and looking at Jesus life. I tend to stress the latter approach because (at least in the circles I move in) it is the least common way of looking at things. Also, in the UK context, I am convinced that talking about the life of Jesus will have more traction in an evangelistic context than leaping straight to his death and resurrection. Obviously, we have to talk about his death at some point, I’m just not convinced that it is the best place to start when so few people have enough background to understand what it means (things may be different in your part of the world).

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