At church on Sunday, the pastor started his Christmas-related sermon by analyzing the first verse of the song "What Child Is This?" He told us he liked the title, but not the lyrics, then went on to tell us why. "This, this is Christ the King/Whom shepherds guard and angels sing" was the line in particular he had a problem with. The angels in the Christmas story are a company of angels, which is a word used for a military group. These were warring angels. And in the story, the shepherds were singing praises, not guarding the baby.
It took all of me to not stand up and shout "you're missing it!"
The literal translation of each word in the Bible is important, I'm quite sure. It may not be for me to study, but there's meaning there.
It's just that with things like this, with moments like Christmas, there's so much more meaning elsewhere.
Because if you read a little more of Luke 2, that "company" of angels does sing of the baby Jesus. And who better to protect the person repeatedly referred to as "the Lamb of God" than a group of shepherds?
That's where the magic of Christmas is. That's where the meaning lies.
In the story. In the poetry of it all.
I watched A Muppet Christmas Carol a few nights ago. My girlfriend had never seen it and I watch it every year. In the beginning, Ebenezer Scrooge, played wonderfully by Michael Caine, questions why he should close his business for Christmas Day. "Poor excuse to pick a man's pocket every December the 25th," he says.
And if you look at everything pragmatically, you'd have to say he's right. There's no real reason to close most of the nation down on this one day a year to celebrate something that a lot of people don't even really believe in. It doesn't make sense, really.
But what Scrooge learns is that there's a reason to make merry at this time of year. He doesn't even learn that it's about the birth of a Savior or anything like that. He simply learns that everyone has a reason to celebrate. That everyone can find a reason, if even only for a day, to be happy. To give to each other.
As Community so brilliantly puts it in their stop-motion animated episode, "Christmas is the idea that one of the coldest, darkest nights of the year can also be the warmest and brightest."
George Bailey, too, doesn't learn that Christmas is about the baby Jesus. What does he learn? That one man's life can touch so many others. That no man is a failure who has friends.
Call me crazy, but all of those lessons, even if they don't quote chapter and verse, can be found in the Bible too. The importance of giving to the poor. The importance of fellowship. Those are concepts at the core of Christmas, even if they're not straight from Luke 2.
If we look at Christmas from a literal point of view, we'll see how commercialism has taken over. We'll see how in stores, employees can't even tell you Merry Christmas anymore. We could even see how Jesus probably wasn't born in December and how the wise men probably weren't there just then and a hundred other things.
We could spend the whole season staring at these single trees and miss the forest completely.
Or we could step back, and realize that even if something isn't necessarily true in the literal sense, it can still be all about the capital-T Truth of Christmas.
And for that, we can make merry. For that, we can keep Christmas in our hearts.