My wife, Heather, is currently obsessed with a song by Kutless called “This is Christmas.”
The lyrics suggest, as many Christian songs and clergy do around this time every year, that Christ is missing more and more from Christmas. Whatever you do, don’t tell St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Francis of Assisi, a man known for his deep humility and poverty, was inspired to build the first nativity scene in 1223 in a cave near Greccio, Italy after a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. There was a live ox and ass and perhaps even a live infant. Locals hearing about the construction later brought torches and candles to help illuminate the event. St. Francis of Assisi wanted the focus on the infant Christ in the midst of the Mass. I believe he would be sympathetic to the cry of many Christians today.
Indeed, keeping Christ in Christmas is the perennial struggle of the Church across denominations and traditions. Given Christ’s incognito entrance into humanity, it’s no wonder we still have an issue recognizing the “king of kings” in our busy culture. There wasn’t much room for Jesus in those days, and there doesn’t seem to be much more now.
The Christian band, Casting Crowns, has a popular song which compares ancient Bethlehem with America today, saying that we’ve made no room for our king. There’s a religious and political charge here and even though I understand the impetus of the message, it makes me uncomfortable.
Does Christ want to be king of a nation–of the world–or ruler of each individual heart? Indeed, remember when Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness? Did Satan not promise Jesus the kingdom’s of the earth if he worshiped him? Jesus was more interested in worshiping God alone (Matthew 4: 8-10). And what about at Christ’s trial with Pilate? Jesus flat out tells the man that he is in fact a king, but not of this world (John 18: 36).
When I was a Christian in high school, I wanted Jesus to rule the world. More specifically, I wanted my version of Christianity to rule the world. I didn’t want Christ in the hearts of others, I wanted to stuff him down their throats. I had forgotten about his humble, non-intrusive birth. I had forgotten about his words in the Book of Revelation:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” –Revelation 3: 20
Christ wants to be invited in by individuals, not superimposed upon our culture by aggressive politics, pulpit darlings, or social pressure. Perhaps that’s one reason we have the anti-theist movement now, because human nature will always push back when forced upon. Even something that may be good for us.
May I be so bold? Yes I can, because I used to be one of these. Christians: Jesus doesn’t need a pimp. He works best in the shadows and the alleyways of the human condition. This is why he was born in the worst of conditions, in the worst of times, among the savage evils and cruelties of humanity. Because that’s where he thrives.
He doesn’t need you stuffing him down society’s throat.
I can tell you now, that Christ–at least as a character in the Bible–has impacted my life more in these last 24 days than he ever did while I was a Christian in high school. That isn’t to say that it’s all because of the Catholic influence this month, however the approach is totally different. By encouraging me to read the source material, to study the lives of the saints, to pour into the gospel as a meditative practice, to participate in the Mass (instead of show up due to social obligation and go through the motions), to totally buy into the message and purpose of Christ, read the two thousand year’s worth of scholarship and struggle…
All before going out into the world and trying to tell others who or what to believe. That’s the difference. I had to hear the knock of Christ, invite him in, and share a meal (and conversation) before anything else could happen. Turns out, I was doing things backward. I was trying to put Christ back in everything around me before first having Christ properly in me. We are what we eat, after all, and if Christians haven’t properly taken in Christ, how can they possibly expect others to even put up with their sales pitch?
Notice that he’s not using a battering ram. He also doesn’t have some preacher off his Ritalin jumping around behind him. No special interest group hounding the neighborhood. No politicians trying to force feed the gospel to the nation. No one protesting funerals. No one demanding money on television. Jesus is knocking, just loud enough for you to hear, but not enough to intrude.
So perhaps the Kutless song needs an amendment. Perhaps we should ask instead, “What is a Christian without Christ?” Because before we can ask where Christ is in the season, we must ask ourselves if he is in fact in the Christian’s heart.
Have a merry Christmas everyone, and save some room for Christ at your table. Even if you aren’t a Christian, I’m sure you’d have a good time in his company. After all, I hear he’s popular at parties.