John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:2-15). Like John are we are also disappointed at Jesus that he did not come as we think he ought? He taught nothing about tongues speaking, no Sabbath requirement, no prayers to Mary, no rosaries, no succession of popes or bishops, no Christmas rush, and made no specific liturgical demands. He did heal and preach good news to the poor. Yet, his preaching was not about worldliness, nor receiving material blessings for our giving. His preaching was about giving and self-sacrifice. It was about a kingdom not of this world, which cannot be described in the sometimes abusive, authoritarian, oppressive terms of this world’s religions. Do we paint Jesus in our terms or his? Like John, do we ask if he is still the One?
We hear a lot about Jesus. Some of it comes directly from one of the four Gospels. Some of it comes from people’s imaginations. John the Baptist had an image of Jesus in his mind, but Jesus was different than he expected. Jesus encouraged John’s disciples to tell him what they saw and heard. What do we see and hear of Jesus? Do we see a little baby in a manger? Do we see a long haired hippie? Do we see the tooth fairy who will grant our wishes? Do we see someone who heals lives and proclaims good news to the poor? Instead of living a fiction of a Jesus invented according to what we wish him to be, let us get to know the real Jesus and be grateful that he is who he is.
Christmas has so many pagan connections that puritanical Christians avoid it altogether, citing God’s opposition to pagan worship when he really only banned things like child sacrifice and temple prostitution (Deuteronomy 12:29-31, 23:17). Rather than avoid it, early Christians sought to conquer it and capture the time for Christ. Just as early Christians converted pagan temples into churches, so too did they convert the many symbols of winter observances into Christian ones. Today, Christmas is again becoming a pagan festival. It seems to be about the commercial pursuit of profit, the giving and receiving of gifts, the office parties, the stampedes for merchandise and the pressure to spend beyond our means. In the midst of the chaos, perhaps even like a voice of one crying in the wilderness (Matthew 3:3) let us rescue Christmas all over again.