Updated: Dec 24, 2022
When people think about Christmas, they don't typically consider it from a legal perspective. Let's face it, as seemingly corrupt and as unquestionably convoluted as the American legal system has become in recent decades, it seems almost sacrilege to bring the two (i.e., law and Christmas) within even eyeshot of one another. But I want to submit to you, my friends, that there is indeed a Law of Christmas. And I ask that you indulge the thought with me for a moment.
Although matters of jurisprudence, cultural diversity, and social evolution make the term law exceedingly difficult to define, the core of any definition, whether scholarly or popular, will always involve the central element of rules. That is to say, law, in its most rarified form, is a system of rules. Criminal law, for example, is a system of rules designed to thwart or punish criminal activity. Property law is a system of rules focused on the use, transfer, purchase, and sale of real and personal property. And tort law is a system of rules dealing with matters of individual and corporate liability. Generally, any system of rules is intended to motivate human behavior unto doing what is right, fair, and beneficial for society. Rules don't exist for self-fulfilling purposes; they exist to ensure the greatest good is perpetrated on the greatest number of people.
Christians who discuss the New Testament and its relationship to the Old often say things like, "The New Testament did away with the need for the Law" or "The New Testament is about grace, and the Old Testament is about the Law," and though I understand the sentiment being communicated (i.e., that Jesus atoned for sin and, thus, paid the sin debt under the Law, thereby freeing his people from the penalty of the Law), I cannot agree with such misleading notions. For one, Jesus said, "I have not come to abolish [the Law] but to fulfill [it]" (Matt. 5:17). And then Paul in both Galatians 6:2 and 1 Corinthians 9:21 talks about the Law of Christ, which believers are bound to obey. Plus, common sense and intuitive biblical theology highlight the absurdity in a theology of lawlessness. The reality is that we are still under law, albeit a different form from that of traditional Judaism. So what is this Law of Christ to which Jesus and Paul refer and to which our hearts of conscience lean?
Quite simply, it is love. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, he didn't hesitate but responded confidently, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . . [and] Love your neighbor as your yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt. 22:37, 39-40). You see, Jesus came to atone for sins, to bring redemption and propitiation, and to reconcile with man, but he did not come to abolish the Law, destroy the Law, or undermine the Law. Indeed, he came to enhance the Law on the very matter of love. God saw the depravity in man's heart, his inability to do what is right, and his penchant for selfishness and self-righteousness, and in his abounding wisdom, God knew the solution to these problems resided in the most powerful emotive force known to both himself and man--that "volitional emotion" that stirred him to create the universe in the beginning, to spare the life of Isaac, to protect the life of Joshua, to show undeserved grace to David, to call Moses out of the wilderness, to comfort the psalmist, to heal the sick, and to put his only Son on the cross--namely, love. So, of the 600+ rules to choose from in the Pentateuch, Jesus chose the Rule of Love to occupy the centerpiece of his Law, and he challenged his people to follow that rule.
Of course, obeying this rule is no easy task; some would say it is an impossible task. Every manner of sin, temptation, frustration, selfish ambition, self-centeredness, and distraction seek always to cultivate the evil, rebellious seeds in our hearts. Thus, we often observe the Law of Christ from afar, admiring its lawgiver, its purpose, and its goals, but feeling powerless to subordinate ourselves to it. Of course, God was intimately in tune with our struggles, so when Christ ascended into heaven, he sent back the Spirit of God as an indwelling presence, and in so doing, gave us the power to obey--the ability to subsume. Today, we are able to love, not because of some inherent affection we possess and tap into, but because he first loved us and gave himself to us. If law is indeed a system of rules, then the Law of Christ is a system ruled by only one, namely, the God of love. And if this system of rule is truly law, then it must be committed to the good of mankind and to the promotion of blessing. The Law of Christ, in other words, is not simply a theoretical concept--a notion for legal scholars, theologians, and philosophers--rather, it is a practical standard to be played out in the life of God's people through acts of righteousness, fairness, and beneficence. It is the do in James 1:22, the give in Luke 6:38, and the serve in Mark 10:45.
So, this year I want to propose something only quasi-radical--a tweak to our typical perceptions of Christmas. Instead of finding comfort in greenery, twinkling lights, nativities, church plays, candlelight vigils, and traditional demonstrations of faith, I want to challenge you to consider the Law of Christmas. If Christ's coming ushered in this Law of Christ, then it stands to reason that an annual celebration of his advent should likewise celebrate his Law. And if that law is one of praxis, then it should be demonstrated in a manner that is right, fair, and beneficent--maybe a gift to a needy child, a visit to a lonely widow, or a kind word to a stranger. And if it is demonstrated in these ways and in submission to the Rule of Love, then it will truly be love. And when it is truly love, then it is Christmas!