By Keith Lee, Associate Pastor
One of the struggles of educators in children’s Sunday School is that sometimes what has been taught in childhood limits their theological growth and development as adults. These limitations include maintaining a strict literal understanding of the Bible, a simplification of stories, and a truncated theological perspective. This effect is most prominent during Christmas. For example, major themes of Christmas are the little baby Jesus in a manger, the shepherds watching sheep near Bethlehem, receiving presents and being saved while ignoring pressing social justice themes.
If you step away from these simple ideas and reexamine the two birth narratives in the gospels, you will see multiple strands of social and political conflicts woven in. The Gospel of Matthew records Herod’s insecure and violent tendencies, the apathy of Jerusalem’s religious establishment versus the Gentile celebration of God’s action, some marital tension due to a suspicion of infidelity, the needless violence on children and helpless mothers, the plight of political refugees and more. (There are more observations in Luke’s.) Reexamining the gospels’ birth narratives points to a conflicted and tension-filled social political environment of first century Israel. Therefore we see that Christmas is more than our truncated holiday traditions, and more importantly, it is much more relevant to our own socio-political reality.
I mention the need to see Christmas in a new light for two reasons. One, as adults we develop a new appreciation of Christmas rather than going through the motion of all its trappings and fall into a fantasy world. With a new vision we confront our world rather than escape from it by highlighting Jesus’ ministry of Immanuel (God with us) in the most difficult and trying circumstances. Two, we allow our children to enjoy the traditions of Christmas while leaving room for growth into understanding God’s action in dark and unjust aspects of our fallen yet beautiful world. They will be better served if we present a Christmas that’s truer to Jesus’ birth.