The meaning of Christmas grows hazier with each passing year. When I was young it was clear enough—we were celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ child, the Son of Man. I was taught that Jesus was God on earth and the son of God. I didn’t dispute this claim—it came from my parents and other adults I trusted, and it was presented beautifully. The lights, the music, the midnight service, the glorious passages from Luke and Matthew, the gifts—it had always been this way; it would always be this way.
The years passed and I learned that there was some history—a lot of history. There were contradictions, disputes, other perspectives. The world shifted under my feet, and I shifted with it, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes because it was convenient, other times because I had no choice.
As a young man I went to work for Johnny DiGiacinto at Armonk Wine and Liquor—a very nice store—and learned that the month and a few weeks that encompassed the holidays could make or break a year in retail. More years passed and I lost family, friends, and community to carelessness, tectonic plate movement, and parallel universes. Careers unfolded or disappeared. The world changed in unimaginable ways—unimaginable before the fact, that is—now it just was. A generation left us and another was born. I woke up one day and I was a starving musician. I woke up another day and I was living in Omaha, the pastor of a small church. I woke up another day and my children were traveling the world, going to college, and talking about marriage.
Every year there was Christmas, now sagging under the weight of my memories and knowledge. Traditions became ghosts that haunted me, cobwebs to be cleared away. The story about Jesus and its meaning had been challenged on so many fronts that the whole theology seemed untenable. The carols, while still beautiful, were now the stuff of fairytales, and so many of those beautiful words in Luke and Matthew were exposed as contradictory expressions of an archaic worldview.
But one message, one word, remains clear. Not king, or prince, or joy, or virgin, or magi, or messiah, or lord; but hope. That was the word running through lives and lifetimes like a thread, leading us onward, guiding us, and giving sustenance to weary people. Hope. That was the word. That was what the story was about. Hope that we can restore justice and create peace in a broken world.
Hope. That was why it was good news.