A Fleshed-Out Christmas
Living Out the Truth of Christ’s Incarnation
The boxes are down from the attic. There’s a ceramic turkey just waiting to be replaced with a ceramic tree, and we’ll be eating the leftovers from one holiday feast until it is time to start chewing our way through the next holiday’s parties and dinners. Why? So that we can be with the ones we love, right? The pace may get hectic, but we all want to be loved during Christmas, Thanksgiving, and whatever other holiday we can find.
What We Need
Perhaps your seasons are shaping up differently from the feasts and decorations. Love may be far from your mind, or simply far from you as it weighs on your heart. Peace may be your greatest hope this Christmas, peace on earth so that all the Mommies and Daddies can come home. Peace in your family, so that we can be together and not estranged this year. Even if that estrangement is emotional, for there can be great distances across the table.
Joy may be your greatest need this year. Joy. It is hard to find it when your job skills are not what the market needs, or when your world has been rocked by tragedy. The world may not have noticed it – there were no news articles about it – but tragedy is in the effect, not the size. And economic recovery means nothing to you if you are the one still searching for this month’s rent. Joy? How about survival?
What many of us need is for these great ideas to be more than that. For love to be more than a feeling we hope to find. For peace to be more than a treaty between nations that we hope someone signs. For joy to be more than just the fleeting thought we hold when the phone rings. All of these, after all, fail us after a time. Joy is chased from our hearts by sadness. Peace disappears as new stress ignites old conflicts. Love slides into what might have been as our feelings cool and subside.
Then what shall we do? Nothing. Nothing at all, for nothing we can do will last, will it?
Yet this is the counsel of despair. Throwing up our hands and giving up on finding the holidays we want, the love, joy, and peace we need, surrenders all hope that life is more than what we have, what we eat, and where we are.
Surely there is another way!
There is, and we find it in that first Christmas. Rather than point you to Matthew and Luke to see the all-familiar narrative of Mary, Joseph, and a cradle in Bethlehem, I want you to look at John’s Gospel instead. While Matthew and Luke help us see what happened that first year, John helps us see why it happened. You will find this helpful.
John tells us, in the first chapter, that “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). From this verse, and the varied languages that Christianity is expressed in, we get the word incarnation, which we use to summarize the idea that all of who God is, all of the character of the Almighty, is found in Jesus. Quite simply, Jesus “fleshes out” who God is for us.
We see this when we look to Jesus to understand teaching, for He “fleshes out” how to teach. We see this when we look to Jesus to understand forgiveness, seeing him “flesh out” how to both uphold holiness and forgive sinful people. We see this when we look to Jesus to understand compassion, as He “fleshes” it out by touching the lepers when He heals them.
And when we need to see love? Jesus shows us love incarnate, fleshed-out, when He goes to the Cross for us. When we need peace? As He cries out, “Father, forgive them!” and makes peace between God and man, we see peace. Joy? The Incarnate One who rose up from the grave, conquering death shows us where joy is found!
Fleshing it Out
Is there a better way to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving than by fleshing out the ideas that we all need more of in our lives? By taking the example of Jesus and being the incarnation of what your loved ones need?
Peace. You need peace, and your family needs peace. Not just at Christmas, but all through the year. And we work so hard for it, don’t we? Many times, we work ourselves into a frenzy to make for a peaceful, relaxed holiday gathering. Try fleshing out peace by slowing the pace down, just a bit. Invite others to help with preparations. Be gracious with those whose schedules keep them away. Perhaps even release the date from a strenuous celebration, for the Proverbs remind us that vegetables and love are better than feasts and strife (Proverbs 15:17).
Throughout the year, promote peacefulness by showing patience. Promote it as well by blocking out time for yourself to be connected to God who brings peace. This may not solve the world’s problems, but can help bring peace in the world around you.
Joy. Joy fills us up as we deal with the world that we cannot bring peace to, and so we need to see people who flesh out joy. This is not the silly idea of people who are always happy, as if ignorant of reality. If you laugh in the face of every tragedy, then you likely do not understand some of them.
Joy does not always laugh, but it always perseveres. Fleshing out joy can be a challenge, but it is seen when we handle how things go wrong. When we see someone in crisis, be present as we are able. This simple act of presence can help flesh out joy.
Love. Love is the willful decision to treat others the way God treats them. It can be fleshed out by a hug at the right time and a rebuke at the proper moment. You can incarnate love this Christmas by focusing on people over parties, relationships over recipes.
Then you can flow from that into the coming year. Be the visible love that others need. Let that love show in your choices, in your schedules. Not by stressing over every moment, certainly not by taking this as “one more thing to do,” but by seeing people. By seeing them and responding as God would.
Can we do anything greater this year than to have a fleshed-out Christmas?