Good Questions: Is Jesus the Reason for the Season?

Reflections from Dr. Howell

I have a great fondness, both personal and theological, for Christmas decorations, especially the lights. Some childhood warmth is evoked, and there’s no lovelier image on earth of Christ as the “light that shines in the darkness” (John 1:5).

Inevitably among the season’s decked halls we see the catchy declaration, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” I can’t decide whether to nod or cringe. Yes, none of this would be unfolding had Jesus not been born – or would humanity have cooked up another reason for a focused season of décor, food, fun and gifts at year’s end?

The cringe I feel? I don’t think I’m an old Scrooge for suspecting that Jesus looks down at the bloated excess that is Christmas and groans, or chuckles. You guys credit – or blame me? For this? God took the daring risk of becoming an impoverished child forced to flee government authorities so that we might… party and swap gifts? Or know God, learn to love unlovable neighbors and ultimately be saved?

What might be exposed at Christmas is the real place of religion in life. If your life is what you make of it, if it’s about prospering in American culture, then Jesus can be a lovely additive, a boost to make that life even better, a Jesus blanket around it all, the angel topping the tree. But Jesus didn’t come to be an additive, a topping, a divine supporter. Jesus’ place isn’t his “place” at all. He’s the heart, the breath, the life, the everything; he’s your whole culture; all patterns of what to do and how to think begin and end in him.

Marianne Williamson’s vivid image can be updated for Christmas: you say Jesus is the Reason for the Season – so you think he’ll show up with a surprise gift or a yummy cake or a special brew or even a life-size manger scene for your yard. Instead, you look out the window one day and Jesus is operating a wrecking ball, not to demolish the decorations but to take your whole house down to the foundations to start over.

The Howells will be normal enough, with a tree, lights, gifts and a couple of parties. But I want to feel a little burr under my cushioned chair and not get too comfortable. The first Christmas wasn’t comfortable for the baby Jesus, a bed of straw in the cold, and Herod trying to kill him. Advent is a season to get uncomfortable, to notice the dissonance in a world not yet in love with the Lord Jesus. “We mourn in lonely exile here.”

“Let every heart prepare him room.” Notice it’s pretty cluttered before the clutter of December! Shed some stuff, some busy-ness, some norms. Make space for the Lord to come, and for you even to be the tangible coming of the Lord for others who are hungry, homeless, lonely, unwanted.