Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Ahhh, Christmas. What a wonderful time of the year. I was trying to think of all the things that might come to mind when someone is asked about Christmas: Christmas trees, family time, food, outdoor lights, wreaths, shopping, Santa Claus, mistletoe, holiday parties, Christmas cards, Christmas carols, giving gifts . . . getting gifts, giving to charity, busyness, vacation, memories, ornaments and oh yeah - Jesus - of course. So as I look at this list I just came up with it is just kind of confusing. I mean, is Christmas a religious holiday or a cultural celebration? Is it a little of both or just somewhere in between? I don't think that I'm the only one confused. I hear a lot of people shouting about keeping Christ in Christmas and making a big deal about sales people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" but beyond the lipspeak they are giving the Christ part of Christmas their holiday celebration really doesn't look very different from anyone elses. It seems as though everyone is just kind of morphing all different kinds of cultural celebrations and putting them under the umbrella of "Christmas". So my question would be is this a bad thing or does it really matter?
I guess I've been thinking about this a lot for the last several years and just kind of noting what I see. As we enter the "holiday season" everyone starts talking about the hustle bustle and the count down to Christmas. Lots of excitement! Soon all the holiday cheer and enthusiasm starts to dwindle and people start cutting people off and stealing parking spots again as usual. Everyone seems really worn out and put out by all of the busyness associated with this season. So much to do, so many celebrations, so much shopping . . . After a while it doesn't seem like anyone is having too much fun. Except the kids who are super-hyped up for weeks leading up to Christmas . . . which eventually leads to an over stimulated exhaustion that climaxes on Christmas morning as they walk away from a pile of new toys somehow expecting something more or something a little better.
What does this all mean to Christians? Isn't this a religious holiday? I have a few questions about that. What do any of our cultural Christmas traditions really have to do with the birth of Jesus? I've heard people be really creative in answering this question. But honestly it all sounds a bit silly and a bit stretched. In reality most of our current secular Christmas traditions were born in the previous two centuries with the introduction of two things 1. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and 2. A certain poem called 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Take these two cultural influences and a couple of brilliant 20th century marketing executives and modern Christmas as we know it was born. It gets complicated very quickly because of one thing - family traditions. As soon as the first generation was taken in by all of these new ideas of how to celebrate Christmas they became a family tradition and family traditions are tough to look at critically not to mention break.
So now a days just about everyone celebrates "Christmas". Even the Jewish family down the street and the agnostic at work. Everyone celebrates Christmas. But not everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus. So this is my thing - I don't have a problem with Joe Schmoe celebrating his brand of Christmas in this post-Modern America. Bring on the egg nog and Santa Claus. I do think it is a bit strange for someone who believes in the God of the Bible to celebrate the same brand of Christmas as Joe Schmoe. I think it is, well, confusing. I think everyone is confused - most of all our children. Even the Christians fighting the fight to keep the Christmas trees up at the mall are confused. What? Who cares if there is a Christmas tree up at the mall or if the check out girls says Merry Christmas? It does not effect the way I celebrate Christmas at all. My Christmas isn't about trees or a certain greeting. Are they trying to get a message out about Jesus? I think it would be a lot more effective to spend all the time and effort spent on the "keep Christ in Christmas" bumper stickers and do something that Jesus actually commanded us to do - like take care of people in need in a radical way - wouldn't that bring a lot more attention to Christmas?
So then there are the people who have the point of view that we should be able to celebrate both. What harm is there really? It's all in good fun and as long as we go to church and talk about baby Jesus all of our bases are covered. This is really what I have thought about a lot the past few years. This is my conclusion (need I say for this my personal conclusion and that of our family?): As a professing Christian and follower of Christ this day of "Christmas" has a very real significance to me. It is a day to truly celebrate what God did by sending his son to be born and begin the process of redemption and reconciliaton with him. Big deal. Huge. Not a bigger deal out there really. So if I take this holy day of celebration and start to add things to it I am taking the glory away from Him and putting it on things of this world. God has really laid a few things on my heart as I tried to sift through this and find the truth in it. The first are examples found in Luke 9 and Luke 15 that point to the clear supreme love that Christ demands of his followers. Nothing less is acceptable. Supremacy. Christ is clear about this and I don't see how this is different when it comes to Christmas. He wants all of our affection to be focused on him and not split with things of this world. 2. In Luke 19 when Jesus gets seriously fired up when he goes to the temple and sees the people selling things there. He wasn't too happy about people commercializing a holy place. Ouch. The commercialization part sound familiar?
So what do we do? I love all of the American Christmas traditions just as much as the next girl - I just wish we didn't celebrate them on a day that is supposed to celebrate Jesus. How can Christians reclaim Christmas and "keep Christ in Christmas" - well dare I say don't celebrate the commercial Christmas we are sold. I wonder what would happen if, instead of sitting around on Christmas morning giving gifts to people who have just as much as we do (in the spirit of giving of course), we actually gave away to people who don't have anything. I don't just mean an Angel Tree kid or throwing coins in a red bucket but giving to the least of these - people who have no hope, no food and no idea that there is a loving God who created them and wants to have a relationship with them. That is Christmas.
I will tell you that since I wrapped my heart and mind around all of these things this year it has absolutely been the best Christmas season ever. Everything was focused on Jesus. Anticipation and excitement have built over the past few weeks. It has honestly been fun! Everything has been worshipful and a joy. I haven't felt over stretched or over obligated. If it didn't feel right or fit in with a Christ centered Christmas celebration it wasn't on my radar. I've had lots of time to talk to out kids and get them excited and focused on Jesus' birthday. Believe it or not - they too were really excited about Christmas in a very pure and innocent way. It has been fantastic to see Claire light up and be thrilled about our family celebrations.
Everyone has to kind of wade through these tough issues in today's culture and I'm happy to say I really feel a tremendous amount of peace in this area. I have a peace that I have really sought God in this and wanted to do the thing that most glorified Him and I am thankful He has been faithful and shown me the way. So Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or what ever is appropriate in your particular home. I am comfortable with the fact that we are celebrating Christmas at our house this year.