The doctrine of the incarnation – the miraculous event of the divine Son of God becoming a man which Christmas commemorates – has profound consequences on how we view the world, on our attitudes, and on how we live when embraced and believed as Truth. In my second post on the purpose of Christmas, I reflected on two of these consequences: how Christmas makes us deeply mystical and happily material. This last post examines the last two effects Pastor Keller applies from the 1 John 1 passage: Christmas also makes us “fiercely relational” and “free to be emotional.”
Fiercely Relational – “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3)
The mystical intimate relationship we can experience with the Living God because of the incarnation also extends outward toward other people. The incarnation not only makes us more desirous of intimate relationships, but actually makes us more adept at cultivating them. For the most part we are divided from each other by differences. Even within a single country or ethnic group, people are shaped by different family cultures with their own traditions, norms, and values. Our default mode relationally is to expect people to enter into our world to become like us in order to have ‘fellowship’ (or to just seek out friendships with people who are just like us).
Keller explains that belief in the incarnation should push us out courageously and lovingly into the world of another, enabling us to become weak by humbling ourselves to learn the language, ways, and values of another person. This applies to friendships and to marriages. To be successful relationally, we have to learn how to (and be willing to) get into another person’s world. The incarnation models for us such humble initiative and commitment.
It is widely understood, I think, that one of the main reasons people tend to be most unhappy during the holidays is that Christmas time exacerbates their sense of loneliness, and alienation. Perhaps it exposes what people long for but is sorely missing in their lives: meaningful friendships and family relationships. Even with a preponderance of holiday parties and related social events, many feel a deep relational void. People are happiest when they share their enjoyment of life with others (“man was not made to be alone”). After all, how many people do you know would rather watch a comedy by themselves? Our enjoyment in things tend to multiply when others enjoy them with us.
This really should be the essence of gift giving too. We enjoy the enjoyment others experience when receiving our gifts. And a ‘fiercely relational’ gift giver is not going to think “What would I want this person to get me?” but “if I were this person, what would I want me to get for him?” Be incarnational in your gift giving!
Free to be Emotional – “We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:4)
Keller notes that this statement assumes that the author already has joy, but by sharing the good news of the fellowship with God that is made possible by the reality of the incarnation and experiencing the fellowship with others that the incarnation forms, his joy will be made full. That he already has joy demonstrates that his joy does not depend on what they do or how they respond to this message. Most of us need the world to go right to experience joy: our happiness depends on people doing what we expect and not disappointing us. But Christmas gives us, what Keller calls, a “subterranean joy” – like an underground river that is always flowing – that doesn’t depend on what other do.
Yet this is not a disinterested joy that is indifferent to the well-being of others. Rather the well-being of others enlarges the joy, which provides an incentive for taking risks in relationships, entangling ourselves in the lives of other people to whom we’ve tied our hearts, even when it is costly.
At times in the past, critical of the way our culture celebrates Christmas, I have become a bit of a Grinch-like Christmas curmudgeon. My disdain for materialism needs to be coupled with a greater joy in “fellowship with the Father and the Son” and in fellowship with others over the gift and promise of Christmas, supplemented by a healthy enjoyment of material gifts.
I hope that the incarnation of the Son of God in the man Jesus Christ takes on a renewed and deeper meaning for you this Christmas. As we give and receive “Merry Christmas” greetings, may the truth of the Christmas story penetrate our lives to make us more deeply mystical, happily material, fiercely relational, and free to be emotional.