I’ve lived in the New York City area for over 25 years, and finally went to Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular for the first time this week. Have you seen it? Nonstop music and dancing and high kicks, all celebrating Christmas in New York City—with a side trip into the Nutcracker, and another to the North Pole. And toward the end, there’s a bedtime story scene that turns into a beautiful Christmas nativity with live animals—including, during the show I attended, a wayward camel—and multiple wisemen from lands afar in splendid and colorful garb. The bedtime story, of course, was the account of the birth of Jesus from Luke 2 and Matthew 2: “In the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them….”
It was an amazing thing to see, this elaborate nod to the true meaning and purpose of Christmas. And I loved that it was included—but at the same time, I wasn’t quite sure what the intended message was. That this is really what Christmas is all about? Or that this is just another story we tell at Christmas, like we tell the Nutcracker story?
How does the story of the birth of Jesus fit into your preparations for and celebration of Christmas? Because here’s what we need to remember: It’s not just a story. It’s not just a sweet account of the birth of a baby that our kids act out in an annual Christmas pageant. It’s not just a ceramic set of figurines we arrange on a shelf near the Christmas tree. And it’s not just the thing we acknowledge at a Christmas Eve service before we head home to the real stuff of Christmas—the food, and gifts, and decorations, and fun.
No, the story of the birth of Jesus is the reality of Emmanuel, God with Us. It’s the reality of a God who created us to be in relationship with him, and who would go to incredible, miraculous lengths to reunite us to him. It’s the reality of a God who would choose to leave his throne on high and make himself nothing, “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). Because even as we celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas, we are looking ahead to the Cross and Resurrection and all that we celebrate at Easter.
So as you celebrate, as you listen to Christmas music, or wrap gifts, or address Christmas cards, or attend concerts and work parties or cookie exchanges, or reflect on past celebrations, ask yourself, how can the reality of Jesus’ birth be more central to my celebration? Because you may see a card or bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”—but if you believe the biblical Christmas story, you will come to realize that in reality, Jesus is the reason for everything.
Meg Newton is the associate pastor of Trinity Church in New Canaan.