NOTHSTINE: Why I like Christmas now

A visitor lights a candle inside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 23

I used to not like Christmas very much. I didn’t really like my parents buying me gifts as a kid. I would have preferred them to save their money. I felt guilty about opening presents that I felt cost too much. Seldom did I make a list. My favorite Christmas special was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but it was better before the part where he sold out.Being sensitive and melancholy, I felt bad for the people who struggled financially or who just felt alone during the holiday season. Where was Christmas for them? Too many people are heartbroken at this time of the year. There is even a tragic country song titled “Daddy’s drinking up our Christmas.” Not only can it be tacky, Christmas is just too depressing, I thought.It wasn’t until I read “On the Incarnation” by Athanasius that I experienced a deep and lasting shift about Christmas. Athanasius, an ancient bishop of Alexandria, penned a beautiful treatise on a fundamental question: Why did God become human? C.S. Lewis even helped to raise its profile for modern readers when he wrote an introduction to “On the Incarnation,” calling the work “a masterpiece.”Athanasius beautifully explains why humankind had to be recreated in the image of God — through the new Adam — Jesus Christ. “The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father Who could recreate man made after the Image,” writes Athanasius. Thus, Jesus not only reveals God to man, but man to his true self and purpose. The work is a brilliant defense of the Trinitarian nature of God, including the humanity and divinity of Christ.Some of the greatest truths about the meaning of Christmas and the Gospels are found in its paradoxes. Truth is so often illuminated through contradictions. Christmas declares a child is king, but the king comes to serve and not to be served. The king was conceived and born of a virgin. “Teacher of children became himself a child among children, that He might instruct the unwise,” declared another ancient Christian bishop.Contrast the ancient wisdom with one of the main problems America faces today — the belief that humanity on its own can create a new heaven on earth. Inevitably, as the tide of secularism rises, so does the belief that politics or other substitutes can solve all of our problems. We see this all around us in our political fights and within our national despair. Perhaps this is a primary reason for the current hysteria over elections and issues in our state government. For many, politics fills the vacuum in the absence of higher truths.Christmas, unlike the trivial, is the day that gives all other days meaning. Theologians will continually ask, “Why did God become human?” Perhaps the English writer G.K. Chesterton explained the magic of Christmas well: “It is extraordinary to notice how completely this feeling of the paradox of the manger was lost by the brilliant and ingenious theologians, and how completely it was kept in the Christmas carols. They, at least, never forgot that the main business of the story they had to tell was that the absolute once ruled the universe from a cattle stall.”Dwelling on what Christmas actually proclaims makes everything new and enchanting. I like Christmas now. It overturns all the conventional wisdom of the world, and in doing so, not only brings true light to the world, but to the human heart.Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.