Day 178: Merry (Day-After) Christmas

Day 178.

Merry (day-after) Christmas! Unfortunately today is Thursday but I haven’t had any Chick-fil-A since Monday.  For only the second day, I missed my regularly scheduled daily Chick-fil-A date on Tuesday, Christmas Eve. We were in a hurry to get over to Liza’s mom’s and drop them off so I could go to our church and help set up the parking lot, and by the time we actually got organized, I didn’t have time to pop in (of course they were closed after the service.)

So tonight I picked up a Chick-fil-A Mocha shake (they were out of Peppermint, the horror!), filled with plenty of food from a third Christmas dinner at my mother-in-law’s in as many days. Great to see the fellas, though sad to inform them that I only have two more days of VIP status as I leave for St. Louis on Saturday. Unfortunately, the card isn’t good in The Lou (and I’m proud).

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Notice the gap in this picture? The elusive James managed to miss another picture. I think the only one he’s in is the one where his back is to the camera and he’s on a ladder fixing the Chick-fil-A drive-thru automated voice machine that was giving bad info.

At any rate, it’s hard to believe I only have two more days.

It was Asher’s first Christmas, and I have a cornucopia of pictures, so I’ll just throw a couple of for memories’ sake:

everydaywithchickfila2The fam at Christmas Eve service; I was working on the parking crew, hence the hideous yellow vest and white legs.

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A closeup of me and the boy.

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Easily his favorite gift.  That was all mamma’s idea, and it was a good one.

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We went for a family run; starting another tradition I suppose.

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Dinner at Grandma’s.

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Hanging with Uncle James.

Of course, Christmas is about so much more than family and friends, so for those of you who actually don’t know how Christmas came to be and what it really is all about, I posted the below essay on my Facebook wall and with my own permissions, post it here. Merry Christmas!

What Is the Meaning of Christmas? A Short Essay

I posed a question on Facebook recently which went like this: “If aliens invaded earth, would they be able to determine the meaning of Christmas by observing human behavior?”

Of course, no conclusions were really made, and I believe we ended up going off on a tangent about what aliens would actually look like, which, while an interesting exercise in imagination, has no value in determining the answer to the question.

But we needn’t really bring aliens into the equation, do we? Couldn’t we just take a street poll and ask random folks this question – “What is the meaning of Christmas?” I think the answers would go something like this (I’m attempting to provide this list without resorting to hyperbole or sarcasm):

  • The three F’s: Family, friends, and food
  • Giving back
  • Giving gifts to the ones you love
  • Spreading cheer
  • Shopping
  • Santa
  • Love
  • Eggnog and other spiked beverages
  • Celebration
  • Did I mention food?
  • Pastoral images of sleigh rides, snow globes, and lit fireplaces
  • The birth of Jesus

I could go on, but I think it’s a fairly generic and comprehensive list. Everything on that list is something to which I can relate, though some more than others. I think most people can.

Then there’s that “birth of Jesus” thing at the end, which, undoubtedly, at least a few in our imaginary poll would give as an answer. But in an increasingly secular culture, while many may still know Christmas has some religious undertones, it seems obvious to me that there are those who can grow up in a Western city or town and potentially never hear this word – “incarnation.”

Oh you see it on Orthodox and Catholic Church signs all the time, but do you know what it means? Because quite essentially, it is the meaning of Christmas.

If you’ve read any of the early church creeds or confessions – you wouldn’t be alone if you haven’t – you’ll know that the “incarnation” is an essential doctrine of the Church. When I use the word “Church” with a capital C, I’m not talking about the building you see on seemingly every corner, at least in the South U.S. I’m talking about the Church Universal; that is, a group of people, like Americans, women, Bears fans, or any other number of grouped individuals who identify with a certain tenant or quality.

Another way to think of the Church Universal is this way – it’s God’s family. It is people from all races, all ethnicities, genders, cultures, and ways of life who, in their diverse and sundry interests, set them all aside to be unified in this one way: to confess Jesus as the One who reconciles us back into a right relationship with God.

Very simply, everyone who is part of this family – the vernacular most used is “Christian” – believe in the Incarnation. That’s why so many creeds were both written and spoken soon after Jesus lived, died, and rose again; the early church fathers wanted to codify and solidify that which actually happened, despite its unbelievable nature. One such creed, at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381, put it this way: “[Christ], who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

How shall I translate that for a modern audience? Basically it means this – the man who lived in 1st century Palestine, Jesus of Nazareth, was God before He was a man. The word has its roots in Latin, and I’ll let you do your own research, but essentially Incarnation means this: ‘to be made in the flesh.’ You won’t find the word in the bible. Instead, it’s the family of God trying to come up with a word that encapsulates the Christmas story, the meaning of Christmas: Incarnation.

As interesting as that may be to me, there’s a good chance it’s not interesting to you. But I challenge you to think about what it means if it’s true. If the man who historically lived a historically verifiable life in what is now modern day Israel some 2000 years ago really was God incarnate – that is, He was actually God and was made a man – then Christmas takes on a very different meaning indeed. While the presents, family, food and friends can enhance its meaning, without the Incarnation being absolutely true, Christmas means nothing at all. You can assign your own meaning to it with family tradition and Aunt June’s famous corn pudding, but something that means many things actually doesn’t mean anything.

So Christmas means the Incarnation. So what? Why should that matter to anyone in the 21st century? Because an eternal God did something that, if not done, would’ve left us all irrevocably hopeless, whether in caveman BC, 21st century America, or some day in the future if humans colonize Mars. God is Spirit, according to the bible. If God only exists in Spirit form, then He could never do something that the rest of us do: die. He needed a body that He may die in, so as to identify with humanity’s biggest problem: death. In “being made in human flesh,” He was able to then take on the sins of the world, dying in our place, so that the penalty of death would not be an eternal problem, but merely a temporary one.

Before He could die a death for us, forever abolishing our sins and obliterating them as though they never were, He had to have a body. At Christmastime, we celebrate the biblical doctrine that God became a man, born of a virgin, having no physical earthly father, but having a physical body in which He could experience all that humans experience; in doing this, He qualified Himself as One who understands our every problem, feels with us in our every pain, and endured our biggest certainty – death.

Christmas IS the Incarnation. If you’re celebrating for any other reason, it’s all good. But please know that the very reason you are celebrating now is that throughout time and history, men and women before you celebrated the historical event of the Incarnation and passed it on to a subsequent generation. It’s this event alone that gives any other celebration meaning, because it guarantees the elimination of that which we all fear – death.

That is something to celebrate indeed.

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