Humans today are increasingly asked to live in a fragmented world of image, feeling, and PR.
A candidate for president of the United States can tell Americans that Christmas is the season of miracles, but what about the rest of the year?
Is God alive December 25, but dead by January 1, not able to survive the party?
In contrast to warm fuzzies delivered by admakers, politicians, and ministry machines, the Christmas of history is about the objectivity and unity of truth in the midst of tremendous challenge.
The Good News of salvation concerns hope despite the tragedy of a humanity spoiled yes by sin, but the individual is not materialistic junk.
Ontologically speaking, man is fundamentally good and worthwhile.
We have made a mess of things, but there’s still some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for, as Frodo’s friend Sam says in The Lord of the Rings.
Christmas is a message of whole and holy healing for humanity’s ethical fall into sin and darkness, and it is a solution set forth in the context of a humane and Godly connection between fact and reason, hope and meaning.
That’s what we meet in the second element of Luke 2:20, where the shepherds are “glorifying and praising God” as they return from Bethlehem.
This behavior demonstrates a straightforward, healthy, and connected approach to life.
The shepherds know already what it means to praise a co-worker for returning a wandering sheep back to safety.
They understand that glory is due when predators are routed because a shepherd stands with courage.
As humans subject to death, they would know about fear and sorrow and loss if a lamb is found too late.
It is a life situation where spouse and siblings in herding families offer glory and praise for work well done, food on the table, milk to drink, and clothes to wear.
In the information of Luke 2, the glorifying and praising is directed to work well done by the living God.
This is excitement related to information given by angels in the same fields where human action to save endangered animals would have been honored by words of affirmation.
Reason, Objectivity, “My Truth”
But it is important emphasize that this glorifying and praising of God upon the return of the shepherds is not a religious act, in the sense of “religion” and the kind of “faith” we hear about today.
Instead, the shepherds are responding as any reasonable human being might respond after observing the kind of phenomena described by Luke.
They are responding to a set of challenging events that occurred while they were doing their jobs in terrain they knew like the palms of their hands.
Theirs is a reasonable and heartfelt response to empirical information.
It concerns not “their truth” or “my truth” where religion operates in a safe place or on approved dates of the year (though the names of holidays may be changed to protect the children).
In this way “religious” events and “people of faith” are protected from inquiry but also are isolated from necessary educational, scientific, and political challenges outside the confines of one’s private heaven in an earthly closet.
What is presented in the history of Christmas occurs in the world of objective information, not mere feelings, private “faith,” or attempts to construct one’s own reality on the tabula rasa of a blank, indifferent cosmic canvas.
This real-world orientation includes fields, paths into town and back, Bethlehem itself, Mary and Joseph tired and worn out, and a baby in a manger.
This is wholeness without halos, a this-worldly emphasis that stands in epistemological continuity with the facticity of angels who occupy space and require ticks of the clock to deliver words of world-historical importance.
The angels are like humans insofar as they are personal beings who make significant choices and are not machines predetermined by an impersonal cosmos.
But one way these angels are unlike humans is that they have not made a mess of heaven (others tried, but the coup failed), while we humans have successfully made a mess of things on earth.
Attending the appearance of these messengers is light that illuminates familiar surroundings at night, so that human eyes see colors and sights at 3 a.m. that they usually observe at 3 p.m.
But whether by angel-light or daylight, it’s the same factual world of space, time, cause and effect, in which significant personal beings make choices and change history.
The Biblical Christmas affirms reason.
This includes the free-thinking rationality of man as male and female created in the image of a reasonable God who loves both form and diversity, creativity and unity.
But it is not cold rationality separated from the wholeness of human personality.
In the Biblical context, as in all healthy human living, shepherds and kings, poets and prophets, prisoners and paupers can shout out to their hearts’ content about what angels have said and what a living God is doing at a particular moment in history.
This can be done as whole persons with free minds wide awake in schools, soccer stadiums, and halls of Congress.
It is the world of Johnny’s learning to read and of minds questioning authority, Ronaldino’s futbol creativity and Jesus’s carpentry, Caesar’s rule but also the inability of enemies to keep dead the King of Kings.
Hope and meaning join hands with fact and reason in a coherent unity of praise and wonder for God and man, angel and earth, lion and lamb, but also for love and beauty, courage and persistence, and progress towards final victory over disease, death, and decay.
Reality does not split apart, humans do not fragment, in the earthy spirit of the historical Christmas.