What is Christmas? So often in books or movies (I'm thinking particularly here about the children's movie "the Polar Express", which I loved) we hear this vague statement "the spirit of christmas". It sounds neat and all, but I can't find anyone who knows what that means. The only answer to that undefined statement really lies in what it means to you. But that search will only lead so far as Clark Griswold standing on a street curb, confusing the visible sewer treatment for "the spirit of Christmas" and saying to yourself "now I know what it means to me." But will you?
If Christmas is only a feeling that means something different to anyone, why do we look to it as a time that allow us to put away all of our differences and come together in unity? We want a grand story to unify us, we only want it expressed in feelings that mean something different to everyone, but we want to appreciate two things that can't go together. The honest truth is, your gushy feelings during Christmas mean nothing if they are not grounded in something real that happened. Who cares what your feeling? Unless it is a powerful life-transforming reaction to something real that effects everyone. But the significance of something real that happens loses its significance when you get to determine what it means. The event's true meaning must come from itself, not you. Let me explain, in early Roman culture when some good news about a victory in war was sent to people, it came in the form of "gospel". We can read early documents that say "the beginning of the gospel of Caesar Augustus" in which wonderful news of peace and defeat over their enemies was announced. What you learned was fact, it was history, it wasn't something you could then go find what it meant to you. The news meant the same wonderful thing to everyone, and because it really happened is why it became significant. People had unity in their joy and celebration b/c of what had happened for them, it had nothing to do with how they felt about it.
We are experiencing a tension in our culture that really does long for a true story that connects us all, but we want to allow meaning to come from our feelings. You can't have both. The significance of Christmas is not in your feelings, its in what happened. In Mark 1:1 we read "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ" in which we read the announcement of the fact that Jesus of Nazareth came to bring the world a final victory of our ultimate enemy: sin and death. It comes in the form of an announcement:
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing
Christmas is about the return of the King, coming for his people, to make Heaven and Earth one, and this can be yours by Faith. When your individual faith is in something real that happened, it really does matter. You know what will get people to put away all their petty differences? Sharing allegiance and celebration in the one true King who has come.