We laugh. Or maybe we shake our heads in sorrow. But was she right? Have we dragged religion into Christmas—or even into Christianity? You see, religion is when we attempt to reach God by our own efforts. Christianity is where God reaches down to us. Religion is a set of rules and traditions. Christianity is a relationship.
Let’s take a brief look at the main characters in the original Christmas, and see if they dragged religion into their experiences.
Mary was the woman God chose to carry and give birth to His very own Son. What an incredible honor. She experienced a mind-blowing encounter with the angel Gabriel. God selected her out of thousands of Israeli maidens. How terrifying to become pregnant though unmarried. She knew she was a virgin—and she must have hoped her fiancé believed that too. But how many others would? No, Christmas for Mary would not be a religious experience. It would be a time of uncertainty. As a result of Herod’s decree, she and Joseph were traveling when she went into labor. Who would deliver the baby? How would she cope with a newborn infant in an unknown place surrounded by strangers?
Joseph dearly loved Mary and looked forward to the day they would finally become husband and wife. Suddenly, he too faced an angelic encounter. He learned he was going to be a father. A father, not to his own flesh and blood, but to the Son of God. Father to a baby already conceived in the womb of his virgin wife-to-be. To top it all, as the time of delivery drew near, they had to journey to a town where they had no bookings in the local maternity unit. No obstetrician waited for them, no midwife. Would he have to deliver the baby himself? And where? Even the local inns were full. How could he allow his son, God’s Son, to be born in a filthy stable? This was definitely not a religious time for Joseph.
The shepherds, out on the fields of Judea, were looking after their sheep. For them, this was business as usual. The townsfolk regarded them as the very lowest of humanity. They had no standing in the community and weren’t even allowed to testify in court as witnesses. Yet angels visited them. Not just one angel but a whole host. What a terrifying experience for these simple folk who were used to the calm and the beauty of a Galilean hillside. The celestial beings sent them to the nearby town in search of a stable. Why? To find a newborn infant. One whom the angels proclaimed as The Savior, Christ the Lord. Could this be true? And if so, why them? Why didn’t the angels go to King Herod? Or to the affluent? No, this was no religious occasion for the shepherds.
The wise men, or astrologers, far off in the east, were doing what astrologers do, studying the heavens. When they spotted a new star, they knew it signified the birth of the King of Israel. Without delay, they embarked on a journey that would take them many months. By the time they got to Jesus, the infant was already a little boy. At the end of what must have been a long, difficult journey, they worshiped the child and presented him with gifts. This was no religious experience. They weren't seeking God. They were worshiping a new king.
Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men all shared certain experiences and went through a myriad of similar emotions. Each of them in their own way faced huge obstacles and doubtless went through times of fear and confusion as well as wonder and amazement. But religion?
Each one had an encounter with a baby—the Son of God. They personally met Jesus, the Christ, the One who had come to earth to save mankind. Each one was transformed by a new relationship far greater than anything ever experienced before. But it wasn’t religion. They weren't trying to find God. God was reaching down to them.
- Religion follows the church or an organization.
- Christianity follows God’s Son.
- Religion is man-made.
- Christianity is God-made. (John 3:16).
- Religion is tradition.
- Christianity is a relationship.
- There are many religions.
- There is only one Savior—Jesus Christ.
May God help us as we sift through the trappings of religion, especially at this advent season, to receive the Christ who gave us Christmas. And have a happy and blessed Christmas!
SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer contains 90 meditations based on her sojourn in the cancer valley. The e-version is currently on special at Amazon and Barnes and Noble until December 23, 2013.