Healing Line

Healing Line

What Makes Christmas So Great

by Francis MacNutt
Oct/Nov/Dec 2012

For many of us Christmas brings back the warmest memories of any time of the year. Even though I was a child during the Depression years and our family was financially struggling, I still remember that we always had a sumptuous turkey dinner, and my mother and father somehow managed to give my sister and me at least one gift — such as a bicycle or binoculars — that I really wanted. Although I understand intellectually that Christmas is not the most important feast on the Christian calendar, it is still my favorite by a big margin.

The Christian aspect of those warm feelings goes back to the religious part of it all — especially of going to church at midnight on Christmas Eve when it was snowing. Christmas was so much a family feast — a feast of warmth in the midst of a cold, wintry world — and not unlike other times of family love. I remember our dear friend Tommy Tyson was amazed, many years afterwards, when my mother prepared for us a breakfast by candlelight on the family's best china — and it wasn't even Christmas. Any morning with food on the table was a morning worth celebrating.

I now realize that so many people were not blessed with all those happy memories of family love and beauty. So many people, through no fault of their own, feel particularly sad at Christmas, contrasting their own painful memories of Christmas — past and present — with the joy they see all around them. For them, Christmas is not the most joyful time of year, but rather the saddest; the time when they feel most left out.

But for everyone who has a desolate Christmas memory, God has reserved the greatest consolation of all. What we have done has been to cover over the desolation of that first Christmas with a glow that simply wasn't there. God became a human being in Jesus in such a way that every person, especially the most downtrodden and homeless, can feel at home.

The Jewish people were still waiting for the long–awaited Messiah to appear, although God had seemed to remain silent for several hundred years. They were looking for a warrior king, like David, who would raise up an army to overthrow the Roman occupation. They looked forward to a return of the opulence of Solomon and to a glorious and powerful kingdom of God led by a warrior–king, born into a palace rather than a stable.But consider what Jesus' birth was really like. His mother was almost cast aside as an unwed mother. They had to travel by donkey in the last days of her pregnancy, and his father, Joseph was embarrassed by not even being able to rent a room for Mary to give birth. "No room for you at this Inn. Go somewhere else." We know Joseph had to go looking for the closest quiet place and finally came up with a stable, or perhaps it was a cave. The stable would be our equivalent of giving birth in a garage — on the road, homeless. Joseph helped Mary give birth alone. No relatives to help or to celebrate. No one to help rejoice until the angels gathered a few poor shepherds from off the hillsides. We manage to put a shiny gloss upon the event: according to the accepted translation the newborn Jesus was wrapped "in swaddling clothes," and what were those but first–century "diapers," and then they laid him in a "manger," another word we don't use except at Christmas. What it really means (derived from the French word "manger," meaning "to eat") is a "feeding trough for animals."

Clearly the meaning of Christmas is that the Almighty God who created the universe, who caused the prophets to tremble in fear when they saw him high and lifted up, unexpectedly slipped into this world of ours in such a way that hardly anyone noticed. He came in such a humble way that each one of us can dare approach him — even the most poor, the most threadbare. And he didn't come in disguise, he really was poor.

Every one of us can now approach God, not even looking up, as it were, but looking down upon a helpless baby. The Almighty God has identified himself, not only as one of us, a human being, but as one of the poorest working class, so weak as a newborn that he needed to be lifted by his mother to nurse him at her breast. Instead of dressing up to meet him, we will now miss him if we don't dress down. "For I was hungry and you gave me food…in prison and you came to see me" (Matthew 25:37–41 passim).

Jesus has come to you, especially if you are the lost sheep. No matter how pitiful your life has been, he comes to you this Christmas. The only aspect of Christmas that is utterly awesome is his reaching down to you in his infinite love.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Oct/Nov/Dec 2012