Celebrating…What Exactly?

The last couple of years, I’ve found myself very pensive about what the holiday season means to me and what it should possibly mean for other members of the Lord’s body. I don’t have to give much evidence that – like many Christian traditions and practices – the Christmas holiday has devolved into a symbol of Western materialism and misplaced priorities. I don’t have to do much to demonstrate that it’s become more hype than substance, and I don’t have to look far to find all manners of ugly behaviors, misplaced priorities, and outright greed connected with a holiday supposedly celebrating one who came to teach a message denouncing materialism, emphasizing simplicity and spirituality, and who lived a life characterized by modesty and self-control.

That’s the world, though. It doesn’t have to define me, and it’s not really my place to look down my nose at others. Instead, I should be taking a good, hard look in the mirror and asking myself: what am I celebrating?

Self-Righteousness?

Growing up in the church of Christ, I’ve heard sermon after sermon condemning Christmas as a secular holiday unordained in the Scriptures. After all, the probability of Jesus being born in December is remarkably low. The only observance set forth in the New Testament is that of the Lord’s Supper, commemorating the death (not the birth) of Christ. I’ve heard the arguments that Christmas originated as a pagan holiday, leaving hollow the calls to restore, “The true meaning of Christmas.” I can recite ad nauseam every reason Christians should reject Christmas, and I even know a few Christians who do.

I once heard a brother say that we spend all year trying to get people to focus on Christ, and then we spend the one time of year that they are focusing on Him diverting attention from Him as much as possible. And it’s true. You’d have little problem finding preachers proclaiming the evils of Christmas from the pulpit during any given December. I’ve seen whole series on the topic. I wonder, though, who is actually benefitting from these lessons. I wonder whose minds are actually changed by these exercises in. Instead, I think these lessons merely serve to satisfy our own self-righteousness. “We’re not dumb enough to think Jesus was really born December 25.” I used to eat that stuff up, but now it just seems empty. I’m sure it has a place; I’m just not sure what that place is.

Unspoken Materialism?

We can quote the Sermon on the Mount and I John 2 as much as we like, but we have to admit that we Christians in the United States still tend to be pretty materialistic. We like our cars, our houses, our phones, our computers, our Internet access, our cable, our running water, etc. We take our stuff so for granted that I honestly think we fool ourselves into thinking we are being selfless when we drop off a couple cans of beans at the local food kitchen or when we donate some clothes we don’t want anymore to Goodwill. We feel we are going far when we drop a check in the collection plate equal to 1/100 of our annual income…because it’s from the heart.

I think we should enjoy our blessings – don’t get me wrong. But are we celebrating stuff during the holiday season? Do we get impatient or frustrated with incorrect or “missing” gifts? (Why did mom get me the black iPod touch when I clearly said I wanted the white one?) Do we get overly excited about the gifts we see and unwrap? Are we turning a season of thanksgiving into a season of thanksgetting? While we are busying ourselves with not celebrating Christ during a pagan Christmas, we should be careful that we are not merely observing a celebration of materialism in His place.

How About a Little Peace, Love, and Understanding?

Here’s where I am right now:

  • While I understand Jesus was likely not born on December 25 and that the date formerly belonged to a pagan Roman holiday, I don’t really care. No one celebrating Christmas these days understands the significance of or the imagery surrounding Sol Invictus. The once pagan icons and symbols have taken on other meanings. Observing Christmas does not, by default, turn someone into an idolator by association.
  • The stuff is not important. We should be taking this time to teach about self-sacrifice and giving of one’s self rather than participating in the culture of getting. We should be encouraging people to think on peace and kindness, mercy and forgiveness amid the themes prevalent during this season.
  • Jesus is the best example of these teachings. Let’s stop trying to tear people’s thoughts away from Christ because we want to win some religious-political argument. Let’s take advantage of the season to show people what Christ was really about. Let’s use this time for teachable moments – not opportunities to prove our own intellectual self-righteousness.

For me, Christmas has become a serious Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 issue. Some of my fellow Christians set aside time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some refuse to acknowledge Christmas at all. I won’t judge either way, for I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas for me is a celebration of family – a celebration of the families into which I was born and later married as well as the family of believers into which I was baptized. And, if I’m celebrating my Christian family during this season, then I can’t help but be thankful that Christ came to this world, was born miraculously, lived a sinless life, and died so we can all become adopted sons and daughters of God.

Jesus us the reason I have a spiritual family to celebrate, so far be it from me to erase Him from that celebration. He is more than the reason for a given season. He is the reason we have hope. He is the reason we are a people, a chosen generation, a nation of priests. I’ll then take every opportunity I have to share Him with others, even if it means I need to put on a little Christmas spirit once a year.

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