It has begun. In fact, it has been going on for a couple of weeks now, since the celebration of Black Friday. The world around us is celebrating Christmas. Malls are ringing with carols. Restaurants are humming with patrons. Offices are cheerful with festivity. That December 25 is still weeks away does not really matter. The world loves a party, and Christmas provides a month of opportunities. It is delightful, and there is no other season of the year like it.
The world is celebrating what in the course of two thousand years has become the central holiday of winter. (Even in Australia, where it is summer: “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way; summer in Australia; on a scorching summer’s day”!). Yet as it does so, it impoverishes its very understanding of the world, or cosmology.
According to traditional Christianity, the world–in Greek, cosmos–was created by God and declared to be “very good.” Subsequently, sin subverted it and it became subject to all sorts of darkness and evil. But it was still intended by God to have a relationship with him, mediated through the actions or ministry of the human being that alone was made in the “image of God.”
It is interesting that early Christian writers called the human being a microcosm of the cosmos, or “little world” within the larger world. In fact, despite the claims of contemporary transhumanists, all cosmology is ultimately anthropology (that is, all knowledge about the world is ultimately knowledge about mankind, the Greek word for which is anthropos). And the opposite is also true: All knowledge about the mankind is cosmological.
Which is why it matters how we celebrate Christmas. That holiday, according to traditional Christianity, is the celebration of the incarnation, the moment in time when God became man. That is its only meaning. The festivity that has come to be associated with it, and in modern times has actually come to overshadow and even obscure it, is of course quite secondary to it. This is a problem widely recognized and lamented by many Christians today.
This and the posts that will follow are not simply about putting “Christ back into Christmas.” The problem is greater than that. They are not about remembering “the reason for the season,” as important as remembering Christ on Christmas morning is. They are about understanding the cosmological significance of Christmas as a holiday in the earliest times, when Christendom was a good deal more healthy than it is today. They are about the meaning of the incarnation in a world that is nonetheless, as the current festivities taking place around us bear witness, still inhabited by Christendom.
The world has not forgotten Christmas, and Christians have not forgotten Christ. What many have forgotten in the modern west, though, is the meaning of the incarnation.
Image credit: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America