Have you considered that one of the charming things about Christmas is the way it confronts cults of faith, secularism, religion, and politics? Thus:
In contrast to pagan, religious, media, and secular stereotypes, Christmas is about real people living and working in a real world.
The inaugurating events of Christmas occur in and around Bethlehem of Judea. They concern watchful shepherds, pregnant women, and surprised husbands.
All are flesh-and-blood people. All are individuals who think, act, wonder, emote, and make choices in situations of life that are less than ideal.
In the foreground of Luke 2:20 are shepherds. They are persons who work, can be frightened by sudden events, are curious, and are willing to check out things for themselves.
They are not identified as “believers.”
Rather, they are choosing beings who process information and labor outdoors in the fields day and night in all sorts of weather. They do not live six feet off the ground, tip-toeing through life on a cushion of holy air, protected by a nice God from the ups and downs of existence in a broken world.
They face predators and thieves, living and dying. They search for stray lambs, and they respond appropriately to unexpected beings who go bump in the night.
In their work, the shepherds keep a protective physical distance between flock and predator, whether man or animal.
In their humanity as creatures made in the image of God, they keep a protective critical distance between well-grounded information about God and new but untested messages from angelic beings who show up without so much as a knock at the door.
The events of the Nativity concern God, man, angels, and words of salvation, but it is a mistake to conceive of them as “religious.”
Quite unlike “faith” in a progressively fragmented world today, the data about the birth of Christ in the Christmas of history is about a tangible world and knowable events in an objective universe of space and time, cause and effect.
It is about hopes and dreams connected to geography, dirt, history, and fields, not private imaginations and imperishable souls being released from the dark confines of matter in an escape to Mt. Olympus and the comforting arms of gods made in the image of Greek mortals.
Identifiable places matter when you’re talking about a living God who has decided to act into human history.
The Creator of matter respects the space located between the ears of human beings and knows the human brain is more than so many pounds of meat atop a set of shoulders.
Rejected here are politically correct beliefs about the brain as a product mysteriously organized by chance (or by unaccounted-for “law”) to achieve a savage but temporary survival of the strong over the weak in a meaningless, dying universe.
Instead, we have in the Biblical data a regard for persons as thinking individuals of great intrinsic dignity; they are not regarded as easily unpluggable though complex machines that process bits of information.
The Creator expects shepherds and carpenters, students and rabbis, prostitutes and tax collectors to concentrate their minds and to think freely about facts and evidence in a search for wisdom that may challenge current understandings.
The shepherds occupy an external, orderly world that provides a stable context in which ideas can be communicated and truth-claims checked for their veracity.
In contrast to mythology about warfare between science and the Creator, the Biblical worldview affirms matter as good and orderly and provides a foundation for the scientific enterprise, as Nancy Pearcey discusses in her article "Christianity Is a Science-Starter, Not a Science-Stopper."
The Biblical framework also gives a basis to resist cults of religion, politics, or holiday sales. It challenges the imposition of any pious imagination, activist agenda, or news broadcast that refuses to subject theory to fact.
The Christmas of history operates in this kind of earthy framework. It is good, wholistic news for a splintered, fragmented world that can no longer complete the circle.
That good news doesn’t make life easy, as a pregnant woman who traveled by donkey some 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem might be able to tell you.
The events of Luke 2 show a respect for time. The action occurs at night, those hours of the 24-hour day between the setting and the rising of the sun. At a particular moment in the history of a particular night, darkness was pushed back by light.
The content delivered by angels required a quantifiable number of moments to communicate, as did the shepherds’ trip into Bethlehem, as did their return, as did the trip of a mom to Bethlehem, as well as the passage of a baby through a birth canal.
The long-promised flesh-and-blood child was placed in a manger at a particular moment of world history.
Quirinius was governing in Syria, Caesar Augustus was emperor of Rome. He had been the leading power in the empire since 31 B.C. when he defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. All was made official in 27 B.C. when Augustus became Rome’s first emperor.
The above is excerpted from my "Christmas Spirit in Space and Time." Additional excerpts will be forthcoming during this Christmas season, but if you want to read and think ahead, go here.