Christmas is mostly celebrated as a single, climactic event—a long lead up, a big celebration, and the next day we’re already off to Boxing Day sales or after-Christmas clearouts. But something as momentous as the incarnation of Jesus needs so much more than a day to adequately celebrate. That is why the Christian calendar sets aside twelve days to celebrate and linger over the incarnation (which is where we get that familiar, but very strange, “partridge in a pear tree” song).

The twelve-day Christmas season, beginning on Christmas Day, may be the healing remedy needed to reclaim this holiday from merchants and marketers. After all the annoying ads and repetitive jingles fade, when everyone else is burned out on Christmas or has moved on to year-end reviews or gym memberships, now the follower of Jesus can focus on the meaning of the Christmas miracle.

It’s a season of light in darkness, where we are taken deeper into the growing light of the Word made flesh. Reflecting on the birth of Jesus, we have time to delight in the how of incarnation as we’re also led into deeper wonder of its meaning for our world.

At the heart of the Christmas season is the mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming human. The Christian faith is, at the same time, both wonderfully material and mystical, having no truck with escapist spirituality. The Christmas season grounds our faith in space and time—this world that is broken, this body that bleeds. Materiality is not an embarrassment to God; he created it and revels in it.

Christmas calls us to live incarnationally, to embody our faith in our local neighborhoods, following the lead of Jesus, the Word who left heaven and “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).