The Ethics of Christmas


The birth of Jesus reveals God’s love for all people across every barrier. God wants to be with and for humanity. So God comes personally and gently – in a powerless baby born to a poor family in an occupied country – to be Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). Luke calls this “good news that will cause great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10-12).

Why would God do this?

Jesus explains God’s character like this:

“The Most High is kind to the ungrateful and wicked… your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:35-36

This is who God is: totally undeserved kindness and mercy. And so God never stops giving good gifts, even to “the ungrateful and wicked.” Christmas, then, is the most personal revelation of God’s self-giving generosity. God loves across every boundary and comes in person to share his life with sinners, enemies, the damned – with “all people.”

What is the appropriate response to God’s generosity?

Jesus answers like this:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28

Jesus says that when we love like this, we will be “children of the Most High” (Luke 6:35). The logic is simple: God loves enemies, and so God’s children will love enemies. The family resemblance in God’s house is genuine love for the least deserving.

To sum up, the message of Christmas is simple and familiar: God loves all people, and thus God crosses every barrier to be with and for us in Jesus.

But the ethics of Christmas is counter-cultural and often ignored today. Jesus was born because God loves enemies, and thus to celebrate Christmas is to recommit ourselves to loving others across every barrier of hatred and exclusion. The birth of Immanuel, “God with us,” has set the pattern for us of “a willingness to go to any length to restore community” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

O Holy Night beautifully captures the ethics of Christmas:

“Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.”

My prayer this Christmas is that every glowing light, every beautiful present, every errand and cookie and song – as well as the ache that some of us feel at Christmastime – would remind us of Immanuel’s command: “Love your enemies.” The old order of hatred, exclusion, and oppression has been thrown down. The children of this Child are those who cross every boundary, personally and gently, to be with and for the least deserving.

Merry Christmas!


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