At any rate, if I get the “Christmas spirit” it rarely ever comes from the traditions of Christmas. (I do like those okay, though, and there is a nice and kind of homey feeling to them which I enjoy.) I don’t get the Christmas spirit from being religious either. I’m more likely to feel the spirit at church at other times than Christmas. There is so much to do at Christmas that I can hardly even concentrate on the texts, liturgy, music and sermon because I’m thinking about Aunt Gertrude and the present I forgot to buy her. I like the beautiful Christmas carols but the department stores start playing them before we celebrate Thanksgiving so, by the time the season is over, I don’t want to hear another Christmas carol…ever.

So I go to the Scriptures. Each year I read all the Bible texts that surround Christmas and pray, “Lord, make it real…one more time, make it real.”

This year, too, I read all the Christmas texts, those that tell the story and those that are theological and doctrinal. It’s one thing to say, “Unto you a child is born…” (Luke 2:11) and yet another, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). There is a difference between writing, “While shepherds kept watch over their flock by night…” (Luke 2:8) and “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:2).

In other words, the story/event is meaningless without the truth propositions and the truth propositions are mere surmise at best and irrelevant at worst without the story/event. It’s not enough that a baby was born. Millions of babies are born every day. Shepherds, stables and wise men add a nice story line to a holiday, but there are lots of shepherds who say lots of things, the world is full of barns, and wise men and those not so wise are everywhere. Not only that, all talk of a good God who loves us is nothing more than wishful thinking if God has not come and, in space and time, told us. Story and truth go together and you can’t have one without the other.

My late friend, G. Aiken Taylor, the founder of The Presbyterian Journal and World magazine, told me one time that we don’t get to choose the text with which we go to God. The text, he told me, chooses us.

A text chose me as I read through the Christmas texts of the Bible. Matthew 1:21 leapt off the page and chose me.

If you read that verse in context, Joseph is confused. Mary is pregnant and he knows he’s not the father. He didn’t have to get a DNA test or ask any questions because he hadn’t messed around with her, so it had to be somebody else. That’s when the angel came.

I’m forgiven and loved. And that’s not just at the heart of Christmas; it defines who I am and who you are.

The angel told Joseph that he didn’t have to shame, reject or lie about Mary. The angel told Joseph that this was a God thing and for him to relax. Then the verse that jumped off the page and chose me:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

That’s it! That’s what Christmas is all about. Everything else is small stuff. We are needy, screwed-up and guilty sinners, and we all know it. The “new atheists” know it, movie stars and musicians know it. The politicians, media’s talking heads, professors, abortion doctors, pro-life demonstrators and world leaders know it. Your neighbors know it and you know it too. We deny it, laugh at it, go to counselors to fix it, buy stuff to make us feel better about it, use social media and entertainment to avoid it, and dream up religious systems to deny it. But we all know.

The name Jesus means “God is salvation.” The explanation brings it home. We’re lost, we know it and we don’t know what to do about it. “Men must work, and women must weep, and the sooner it’s over, the sooner to sleep.” It’s a thirst that can’t be quenched, a hunger that can’t be satisfied, and a momentary attack of sanity and clarity when we say, “There has to be something more than this…In my meaninglessness and hopelessness I experience guilt with no one to forgive me and no one to love me.”

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Martin Luther was fast coming to the end of himself. He had really tried to be good and couldn’t pull it off. He had worked hard at being religious and those efforts had only magnified the guilt and pain. He poured out his heart to his young confessor who wanted to help but simply didn’t know what to say. So his confessor just started repeating the most ancient of Christian creeds, The Apostles Creed:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
  Maker of heaven and earth…
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
  The holy catholic church;
  The communion of saints;
  The forgiveness of sins…

When the confessor got to the last part of the creed, Luther stopped him.

“Wait, wait!” Luther said. “What was that? Tell me again.”

“What?” the confessor asked.

“The forgiveness part.”

“I believe in the forgiveness of sins…”

“That’s it! There is forgiveness, then!”

With that, Luther ran out of the room in great joy. He got, as it were, the Christmas spirit.

I did too…again.

The Christmas spirit was so fresh once again. I’m forgiven and loved. And that’s not just at the heart of Christmas; it defines who I am and who you are. Forgiven. Loved.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

What sins?

All of them! It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, what you’ve been smoking or drinking, the people you’ve hurt, or the shame you feel…

You’re forgiven and loved.

And if that doesn’t give you joy and make you giggle like a little girl, see if eating more turkey, getting and giving one more present, going to one more Christmas party, and singing one more carol helps. Probably won’t…but it might hide the pain and there is something to be said for that.

However, if all that goes sour on you (and it sometimes does for me), run to Jesus, think about the Baby and don’t forget about the cross. Stay awhile and then return to the party.

This time, when you get down and party, it will be for the right reason.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Read more from Steve here