The most common analogy I see in the Bible describing the relationship between God and the church is that of the marriage covenant. And, it makes a lot of sense when I view it like this. Recently married myself, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to nurture a relationship with my wife. I find myself coming back to love and commitment. I would say these are also essential within Christianity.
Imagine you are married. You arrive home from work one day and open the door to see your spouse and all the children standing there with wrapped gifts. “Happy Birthday!” they shout in unison (except for the youngest, who just kind of makes a loud, joyful noise with the others).
“But it isn’t my birthday. It isn’t even this month?”
Your spouse ignores your confused brow, hands you the gift, and disappears to the kitchen from which you hear, “Dinner will be out in a second, make yourself comfortable.” The delicious smell of something fried and greasy makes your mouth water.
You make your way to the table with the children following in a row. Along the way, you glance at the calendar hanging on the wall. You notice today has a crossed out “Skyler’s Birthday!” and your name is penciled in. You know Skyler as your spouse’s former, adulterous lover.
You decide to have a good time for now, until you can talk about it with your partner later. You open the first gift and it is an expensive pair of boots. They look slightly used, which isn’t as much of a problem as the fact that the boots are three sizes too big! You smile at the child who handed it to you, and thank them gratefully. The next gift is a nice, expensive coat. You try it on and your fingers don’t even make it out of the sleeve. Images of the larger Skyler come to mind, but you try to convince yourself it is merely coincidence. You set aside your spouse’s gift to open later.
“I made your favorite!” rings out from the kitchen, and then out comes dinner–a big bowl of fried shrimp and french fries.
“Honey, you know I’m allergic to shellfish…”
“Aww, I’m sorry, but the children and I love shrimp.”
You decide to fill up on french fries, while everyone else enjoys the shrimp.
After dinner, you reach to open up that last gift. As you start pulling off the ribbons, your spouse says with a wry smile, “I know how much you love the mountains.”
The last piece of wrapping paper falls away to reveal a brochure for a ski resort and a framed picture of a snowy scene of your spouse and someone else. A smiling cutout of your face has been stuck on top of the other person, who has one large arm wrapped around your spouse. Completely bewildered, and a little angry, you rip off the photo to see Skyler’s face underneath, holding a shrimp in the other hand.
Do you take that ski trip?
In the story above, clearly the spouse throwing the birthday party does not know how to care for the other. While going through the motions of showing love (greetings, gifts, dinner), these acts by themselves are not enough. It is difficult to show someone the type of intimate love you find in a marriage without honoring them on a deeper level. The birthday party described above is all superficial, and even a little insulting.
Is that not what we Christians do during Christmas? We paste Jesus’ picture on top of pagan traditions, and pretend that makes all the traditions are okay? This may be how we want to celebrate Jesus, but how does he want to be celebrated? These traditions are the intimate love language of other, pagan deities. Why do we apply them to our God? Does putting Jesus’ name on someone else’s relationship make it okay? As much as we may want to honor Jesus, Christmas isn’t Jesus’ day nor are Christmas traditions his traditions. If Christmas is how Jesus wants us to show our love and commitment, wouldn’t it say so in the Bible?
Wouldn’t you want your spouse to throw out all the possessions and intimate reminders of the adulterous lover, rather than fit you into their shoes?