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Rev. Kenneth Tanner Headshot

Christmas Is for Worship

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Some are worked up about a "war on Christmas."

Not me. I am not compelled to "reclaim" or "rescue" Christmas from the many who ignore and the few who despise its magnificent origins.

How can I be anxious or offended? I am in too much awe of its startling truth: that a baby is God, gasping for air, clasping for mother's milk, flailing his small limbs in a feed trough; taking on my frailty, contingency, vulnerability, that I might share his everlasting nature.

The baby is now Lord of all things visible and invisible, forever one of us, still bearing his now glorified, nail-scarred flesh at the Father's side, making all things new for all, hallowing every star in the far-flung cosmos -- matter's maker now made matter, redeeming every atom and every stoney heart. This reality overpowers me with its brilliant mystery.

I want to share this authentic Christmas. I want everyone to know this God become clay so that all might be like God.

Whether others believe the story, whether they practice holy Christmas -- with deep joy that prostrates before his Incarnation -- does not dampen my praise or slacken my faith. I do not skip a beat. It does not alarm me.

The season society calls "Christmas" falls short of this great mystery, but I wonder if the frustration and anger of some believers springs from an unexamined need for the culture to boost our untested faith in the God who became man. Can we trust the real deal without their cooperation or support? Why does so little set us at odds with our neighbors?

Should we not welcome the chance to embody genuine belief and practice, to live incarnate love in the face of all lesser versions and visions of Christmas? This is an opportunity. This is our calling.

After all, the first Christmas occurred in obscurity, without tinsel or holly. In a small town, in a cave amid manure, straw, and animal breath, Magnificence came forth breathing, born of a woman and almost no one noticed. A star and angels are needed to find him, down a blind, trash-strewn alley, the holy family are huddled against the night air.

At dawn, the world went about its business, unaware that a glory had shone that night that would never be put out, a glory that in time will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. No lack of awareness or poverty of reverence, no stubborn denial, can prevent this.

It's time to worry a lot less about getting Christ back into Christmas (he can't be blasted out of Christmas, no matter how hard anyone tries).

What needs to get back into Christmas is worship. As it was with the shepherds and angels, Christmas is about worship before it's about anything else: falling on our knees, falling flat on our faces, adoring the brilliance of this God who comes to us as a baby, lying in a feed trough, breathing with other animals, wrapped tightly against the cold and the anxiety of leaving his mother's womb.

If every Christian worshipped that majestic mystery at Christmas, lived that worship in every moment of our celebrations, yes, but also actually worshipped in churches, storefronts, cathedrals, living rooms and high schools on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day -- wherever the body of believers they call home worships weekly -- we wouldn't have to worry about getting "Christ back into Christmas."

All would see that Christians worship Incarnate Love as their first priority on this day -- not their decorations, or gifts, or lights, or money, or family, or food, or tinsel, or charity or even their merely human, corporate goodwill but their God.

When the wood of the manger joins the wood of the cross, when Jesus Christ is revealed in the worship of a people captivated by the hardwood glories of Bethlehem and Golgotha, we will no longer need to talk about reclaiming or rescuing anything.

Christmas does not require our defensiveness or salvage operations. It beckons us to a deeper imitation and worship of Divine Clay.

The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter: @kennethtanner