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Why Christmas?

There are several ways Christians view the Christmas season. Some go at it with reckless abandon – house full of lights, presents galore, fridge full of eggnog, Bing Crosby and The Carpenters blaring on the radio. Others shun it altogether, citing it as unbiblical, or even pagan. Many are somewhere in between, feeling confused, wanting to be faithful but wondering what to make of this time of year. I suppose my family falls into this latter category. Like most Christians around the globe we observe the holiday, but struggle to find the best way to do so. How much emphasis on the decorations, or the presents? How do we rightly instruct the children? Is all of this really necessary? Certainly, there are excesses this time of year, yet also a lot to celebrate. So … what do we do about it?

Well, this post isn’t about whether or not Christmas is pagan (that will be another post). And it’s not to preach a definite “do this” or “don’t do that” regarding presents and trees and such. Rather, my goal is to lay out some basic principles – or, better, emphases – to guide us during this season.

Adoration of the Magi (1632) - Rembrandt.  public domain

Adoration of the Magi (1632) – Rembrandt. public domain

Number One: celebrate the coming of the promised Messiah

Try to forget, for a moment, cute children singing “Happy Birthday Jesus.” That’s most certainly not the point of Christmas. There’s a much more edifying way to look at it. Think of it this way: there was a time in history before Christ. Yes, of course, but what does that mean? For the Jews, he was the long promised fulfillment of dozens of ancient prophecies. They longed for his coming, spending time in a lengthy exile and under foreign subjugation in their own land. For me, as a Gentile, it also means a whole lot. Prior to his coming there was no redemption, no hope of eternal life, no giving of the Holy Spirit. There were no Gospels instructing us about God’s ways. There was only hopelessness, the fearful truth that death would come, but without a sure knowledge of what would come afterward.

Jesus changed everything. His entrance into the world was epoch-making. If he hadn’t come, I would be doomed. Because he did come, I’m saved. “But I’m a Gentile!”  “Yes, but now you’re mine too.”

That’s why I celebrate this time of year. Yes, we should also remember his resurrection and long for his return. But that doesn’t mean we cannot have a time when his first coming is celebrated. This coming – or Advent – demands our primary focus. It’s a time to reflect on our own blessings, as well as point others to the purpose behind his advent.

Number Two: don’t be too distracted

There is a yearly tendency to get wrapped up, so to speak, in all of the hustle and bustle of the season itself. Lots of gifts to buy, decorations to put up, travel plans to make, dinners to cook. None of these in and of themselves are wrong. However, they can become problematic if our focus is taken off Christ. If that occurs, the whole holiday is just an end-of-the-year party, devoid of any spiritual merit. How easily this happens! My advice (and this includes myself) is to know thyself. Take a daily inventory of where you’ve focused time and energy. Know when the season threatens to steal your true joy. Make it a point to meditate on Scripture, particularly those relating to salvation in Christ. And direct your children consistently to those same vital truths.

Number Three: don’t spend too much time fretting over what Christmas has “become”

Yes, Christmas is over-commercialized. This has been going on for many decades. Charlie Brown even lamented this in the 1960’s. The fact is that Christmas to the world is completely secular. It’s all about being with family, sharing gifts, Santa, and hoping for snow. But instead allowing this lack of spiritual focus to annoy us, it should remind us to pray, and to use every opportunity to engage the culture with the truth. The irony of Christmas is that most people reject the very one in whose name they celebrate. Our task is to show them what they’re missing. We can also pray that while they sing or record some of the traditional carols, some of those biblical lyrics will lead them to think about him of whom they sing.

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate deity,
Pleased as Man with Man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today.

For lo the days are hastening on
By prophets seen of old
When with the ever circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When the new heaven and earth
Shall own the prince of peace
Their King
And the whole world
Send back the song
Which now the angels sing

[In order, Hark the Herald Angels Sing (verse 2); O Little Town of Bethlehem (verse 4); It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (verse 4)]

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