Last week Michael Bird wrote an emotive article about how December 25th is about the triumph of Christianity over paganism. Modern pagans didn’t like that very much, something about Christian intolerance and crusaders blah, blah. Well I don’t expect any pagans to jump all over this blog unless my friend Kris Pagan happens to read it. I do agree with Birds assessment but I think I would modify the terms and change the emphasis slightly.
Is December 25th about the triumph of Christianity over paganism? Historically that can be disputed. Some would suggest that the complicated context seems to indicate more of a merger of the two than a triumph. But I think the whole discussion is rather moot because “Christianity” is filled with people who do not actively subscribe to God’s Kingdom. Christianity is a religion; God’s Kingdom is about allegiance. So one of the areas I think I would modify in Birds article is less focus on “Christianity” and more focus on “the King”.
Of course Bird means that. When he said, “Christmas means that the unconquerable god of the Romans just got conquered” he’s using what I would call “Kingdom of God” language.
We sometimes think that the point about Christmas is that God became a man or that Jesus died for the sins of the world. This is what was emphasized in the early Christian Creeds, but the Gospels place the emphasis elsewhere. Yes, of course all of those things are true. But the real message of Christmas, the point of N.T. Wright’s recent book Simply Jesus and, I surmise, of his forthcoming book too, How God Became King, is that God is King and was in fact becoming King from the Nativity of the Messiah through to his glorification.
But the point of insisting that Christ remain in Christmas is to insist not that God became a man or that Jesus’ died on for the sins of the world (however true those points may be). Rather the point is to say, Here is the King! Here is the triumphant One! Declare allegiance to Jesus the Messiah! Declare allegiance to Jesus the King!
Christmas is about how God became King. If we miss that while getting teary eyed about a baby in a manger or a substitutionary death, then we’ve missed the point entirely.
So to that end December 25th is about the triumph of God over paganism. But more than that, it’s actually about the triumph of God over everything.