This Advent season, on the recommendation of several The Way of Improvement Leads Home readers, I am reading Biblical scholar N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.
I don’t know Wright’s body of work very well, but I am sure that somewhere he has written about the incarnation. But in Surprise by Hope, the focus is on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, even to the point of taking a few shots at the church for spending far too much time commemorating Christmas and not enough time celebrating Easter.
Christmas itself has now far outstripped Easter in popular culture as the real celebratory center of the Christian year–a move that completely reverses the New Testament emphasis. We sometimes try, in hymns, prayers, and sermons, to build a whole theology on Christmas, but it can’t in fact sustain such a thing. We then keep Lent, Holy Week, and Good Friday so thoroughly that we have hardly any energy left for Easter except for the first night and day. Easter, however, should be the center. Take that away and there is, almost literally, nothing left. (p.23).
…we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins.
I think Wright may have overstated his case here about “taking Christmas away” because it is only referenced in two chapters in two Gospels. But I get his point.