Christmas is about love, but true love drives us to God. Dr. Reynolds, therefore, calls us beyond self-acceptance to the pursuit of holiness.
“If you are not loving, then you are missing Christmas.”
The good news: Nobody I have ever met disagrees with this idea.
The bad news: Some of us have used the idea to reduce Christmas to “love.”
Do not get me wrong; love is great! Love, correctly understood, is the greatest energy that a man or woman can find. But it is the greatest energy only because it is the power, the passion, that drives us to see God. God is Love, so it is for good reason that lovers who keep loving each other look consistently to Him. Saying that anything—like Christmas—just ends with “love” is like driving toward your destination and refusing to get there. Love should drive us to God.
The man who lives for “love” is as mistaken as the driver who drives for the sake of gasoline. Just as the same fuel can drive us to good or bad destinations, so also love (sometimes the exact same love) can be used to make us bad or good. It can help us wallow where we are, or it can drive us toward God.
The man who lives for “love” is as mistaken as the driver who drives for the sake of gasoline.
God is holy, righteous, and just. He is so holy, righteous, and just that exposure to the purity and beauty of His being would just delete us like kludgy code purged from a perfect operating system. For that reason, our goal is to be transformed into His likeness, not just to “accept ourselves as we are,” as so many evangelists of godless love tell us to do. Experience teaches us that we are not so great, left as we are.
“Accepting ourselves as we are” morally would be as foolish as a child who “accepts” her level of academic proficiency and stubbornly stays there. What is intellectually acceptable in a young adult is foolish in a grownup. Likewise, what is morally tolerable in a young adult is awful in a grownup. Love should make us better.
So, since Christmas is tied to love, we should spend this month asking what it would look like not for us to become comfy, but for us to become holy.
Perhaps the worst way to determine what is holy is by listening to contemporary culture. My grandmother was taught benevolent racism as “science” in state schools. A few decades later, her son was taught the immorality of racism. Culture changes quickly.
Likewise, though we are commanded today to love as we please so long as it doesn’t "hurt" anyone, we may discover in a few more decades that today’s idea of “hurt” was far too narrow. We may learn that spiritual hurt must count as much as psychological and physical hurt.
At Christmastime, we all like the joy that the Angels brought as we sing that the Lord has come, but we forget (so easily!) that the Earth is receiving a King and not a therapist. Jesus came bringing war and a sword first so that, later, there could be peace on earth. Jesus brought no jollification for the hypocrite, and the hypocrite is not repenting if he “accepts” his sin!
Jesus came, in the words of the Battle Hymn, to make men holy
We forget (so easily!) that the Earth is receiving a King and not a therapist.
As Christmas comes, I pray God reminds me to seek justice for the poor, righteousness in my deeds and thoughts, and holiness–a separation toward Divine desire. Only in holiness can I find liberation, lest the deep guilt that plagues humankind never lets me go.
This Christmas, may I receive my King.
JOHN MARK REYNOLDS
John Mark is the Founder of Wheatstone Ministries and of Biola University's Torrey Honors Institute. He is also President and Founder of the St. Constantine School, opening in Houston in 2016. Dr. Reynolds is the author of many books, including When Athens Met Jerusalem: an Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought. He is also a frequent blogger and lecturer on a wide range of topics including ancient philosophy, classical and home education, politics, faith, and virtue.