It's Time to Take Christ Out of Christmas
A common sight in the days leading up to Christmas are the signs that read, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” The message of these signs are twofold: to warn against the consumerism that has come to control Christmas, and to remind readers to replace that consumerism with the real reason we celebrate. That reason, of course, being Jesus.
However, the appearance, and subsequent disappearance, of those signs betray the very thing they hope to inspire. They fly off with Santa, are tossed out with the wrapping paper, and get packed away with Christmas decorations. They hibernate in storage until their supposed time of need. It reminds me of a Coffee with Jesus comic strip from Radio Free Babylon, titled “I’ll Be Here.” In the first panel, Santa tells Jesus, “My work here is done, Jesus. See ya next year.” In the next panel, Jesus replies, “I’ll be here, Nick. Enjoy your 364 days off.” In the third panel, Santa stares blankly back at Jesus. In the final panel, Jesus simply says, “Just sayin’.”
The honest reality is, those signs are needed all the time, in every season. Our sinful ability to forget about Christ and His work for us doesn’t get cleaned up with the end of the Christmas season. Our sinful nature is ever present this side of eternity. We need a constant reminder of what a friend of mine once said, “Jesus is the reason. Period.”
Epiphany is the season of the church year crammed between the excited anticipation of Advent/Christmas and the somber focus of Lent. But, more than filler between two high energy seasons, Epiphany serves an important role. It tells us it’s time to take Christ out of Christmas.
Christmas celebrates the incarnation of the Son of God. It remembers the Word who took on flesh and dwelt among us. During the season we sing to and about the one of whom Matthew said, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Isaiah]: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us)” (Matt. 1:22-23).
But, God being with His people didn’t start with Christ’s incarnation. It existed from the beginning. God walked with Adam and Eve, with Enoch, and Noah. He was with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. God expressed His promise to be with Moses in the book of Exodus. From a burning bush, God tells Moses, “I will be who I will be” (Ex. 3:14). Who will God be to Moses? He will be the God who is with him!
And so it goes throughout all of Scripture. God is continually with His people in the wilderness, in the promise land, and in exile. Of course, He comes to be with His people in the most physical of ways in Jesus. The incarnate God’s last words before His ascension were a promise not only to His disciples, but to us, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Christ does not stay behind at Christmas. He doesn’t get wrapped up and put away with the nativity set. He comes with us out of Christmas through the rest of the year because He didn’t stay in the manger. He grew up. He set His face toward Jerusalem and to the cross. We commemorate that journey to the cross, where Christ would be lifted up and draw all people to Himself as the light of the world bringing salvation to the world, by remembering the journey of the Gentile Magi.
The season of Epiphany is punctuated with Christ’s work for us. The first Sunday after Epiphany brings us down into the waters of Christ’s baptism. There, the Father declared Jesus His well-pleasing Son. The last Sunday of Epiphany brings us up the mount of transfiguration. There, Christ radiates with the glory of the Godhead. He speaks with the great representatives of the Old Covenant, Moses and Elijah, about His exodus: His forthcoming death, resurrection, and ascension in fulfillment of the promises of Old. Once again, the Father declare Jesus His beloved Son, His “Chosen One” (Luke 9:35).
Just as Jesus left the manger, He would not stay on the cross. He died to take the sin of the world, my sin and your sin, to the grave. But again, neither did He remain buried in the tomb. Instead, He rose, leaving behind our sin and bringing with Him new life.
This new life He continually brings to us as He comes to be with us where two or three are gathered in His name. He comes to be with us through the Scriptures. And, He is with us in the life-giving waters of Baptism and in the bread and wine that bring His sin-forgiving, life-sustaining flesh and blood to us.