How do our Christmas celebrations miss the mark?

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As evangelicals we have focused on the saving death of Christ but thrown out the Incarnation in our Christmas wrappings. As we cover God with Christmas, we hide what is most distinctive about Christianity. And this is the tragedy: What many don't know about Christianity is that God has chosen to identify with their pain, their humanness, their flesh. This is what we've lost as we have exchanged the Feast of the Incarnation for Christmas.

As we have dressed God in his Christmas best, we have covered the jewel of the Christian faith—God's choice of flesh, of identification with humanity and therefore pain. The earliest Christmas hymns sing of incarnation; most Victorian ones hum harps of gold, reminding us over and over of straw and donkeys. We need to look for ways to communicate to unbelievers the wonderful news of a God who is unwilling to stand apart from us, who must become God with us.

Think about it. God could have chosen distance: contemplating from a detached, divine reverie, creating inanimate objects and slinging them around the universe. Or God could just be. He could have masked himself with the passive face of Buddha, gazing beyond pain. But no, the face of God is spun with joy, drawn by pain, creased with greeting. God avoids realms of esoteric understanding, wandering instead into the mud of identification, the spit and dirt of costly involvement. In flesh we endure heat, cold, toothache; in flesh we fear the rapist, the cancer.

God couldn't be God-with-us if he weren't flesh. The flesh of the baby is father to the flesh of the man. In his flesh, the spit of God mixed with the dirt of Galilee to make a healing paste. The naked baby must be flesh so that God can be stripped again, trading his dusty garments for the splinters of the cross.

No wonder we pile the Christmas tree skirt, the Christmas card list, the invitation to a Christmas party over the flesh-and-blood baby. Please, someone, load on the patchwork wreath, the felt stockings. Turn on somebody's Christmas music. We don't want a God who becomes flesh.

The true Christmas story scares us spitless. If God undressed, we might have to join him—remove our self-sufficiency suits, pull off our health-and-well-being designer sweats. Perhaps instead of shopping we need to spend December reminding ourselves of God's choice of vulnerability and pondering its implications. Perhaps we need to call December 25th the Celebration of the Incarnation, to greet each other with Incarnation greetings—instead of "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas'' we could shout, "God chose flesh!" "God became one of us!"

The Feast of the Incarnation is the time to dance to the descending scales of God's throwing off omnipotence. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us—God closer than close. That's what we could be celebrating. This is the Christmas story as it should be told. This naked God is the path to God.

Mary Ellen Ashcroff is a professor of English at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota, and is author of The Magdalene Gospel and Balancing Acts.

Adapted from "Giftwrapping God" by Mary Ellen Ashcroff, Christianity Today. Click here to read the original article in its entirety and for reprint information.

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