I’m not sure there has been a greater hijack in history than the holiday of Christmas. Name another holiday whose meaning has been so taken over by secular culture and turned into a major world event? Is Hanukkah celebrated outside the Jewish community? How about Ramadan the great Islamic holiday? Nope. Those holidays are celebrated largely within their faith communities or countries largely dominated by those faiths. No holiday has gained such universal stats as Christmas.
Yet Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Many who celebrate it could care less about Jesus or his birth if they even believe in his existence. Perhaps a parallel, though on a much smaller scale, can be found in Saint Patrick’s Day named after an Irish saint. Here in the United States many people wear green on March 17th, drink green beer, and otherwise make merry. Yet most aren’t Irish nor know a lick about Saint Patrick. Really it’s just an excuse to party!
Christmas has become that. Some staggering percentage of retail sales take place during the Christmas season. Lights go up on houses, trees are decorated, plays and musicals and parties are held. People sing, bake cookies, and especially SHOP. The funny thing about the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is that on the first Christmas the gifts were brought by the Wise Men and given to the baby Jesus. They were gifts from men to God. The Wise Men did not celebrate the birth of the Savior by gifting each other or their friends and loved ones. They gave gifts as an act of worship and celebration to God. Now granted we don’t have the same opportunity they did to literally lay gifts at Jesus’ feet. If we wanted to give gifts in the spirit of the Wise Men we would give to the less fortunate, the needy, and we would give in Jesus’ name. We would have our children save a little allowance or do something to earn a little money to then give to the less fortunate. Yes that spirit does live and charitable giving is undoubtedly highest around Christmas but we are not generally jamming the malls and lining up hours early for the doors to open on Black Friday to buy gifts for the needy. We are buying for ourselves and generally family and perhaps friends who may not be at all needy.
What never ceases to amaze me is how stressed people get around Christmas. So many school events, parties, cookies to bake, decorations to put up, and shopping to be done! No wonder New Year’s is such a huge party. It is almost that great sigh of relief that Christmas is over! We survived the season and now let’s party. We agonize what to get Aunt Gretchen or if Tommy has enough presents already or you should get him more. We go into debt and spend money we should not.
As heartwarming as it is that people donate presents to Toys for Tots or to needy military families those children would not feel left out if they did not receive presents if presents weren’t what Christmas was all about! I’m not a scrooge and against brightening a child’s eyes with a shiny new toy but doesn’t it seem like the true meaning of Christmas has gotten lost in all this shopping and feasting and tradition?
Thus we have sayings like “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Most hear it and ignore it. The ACLU fights over public nativity scenes yet you can’t fail to hear songs on the radio or in the shopping malls full of Christian meaning if you but listen closely. Of course we have Santa Claus, and Frosty, Rudolph and so forth. We love the classic Charlie Brown Christmas. Yet do we recall that at the end Linus read from the Bible about the true meaning of Christmas?
Much good happens at Christmas and many families are reunited and spend meaningful time together. That is good. I have mixed feelings about the hijacking of Christmas. On one hand I regret the meaning of Christmas is lost on so many. They may sing carols that praise God yet in their hearts they do not know Him. For many their celebration of Christmas has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ. His name is not even mentioned except in the name of the holiday itself. In fact it is become more common to say “Happy Holidays” than “Merry Christmas” so as not to offend someone who is say Jewish or Muslim. That in itself demonstrates how completely Christmas has been hijacked. No one tells me “Happy Holidays” around Hanukkah or Ramadan. No sadly we have all but lost what Christmas is all about. As a child the big debate was always whether we got to open our presents before church of after. If after then church had better go fast!
On the other hand I am thankful for the spirit of giving to the poor and needy even though it represents a tiny fraction of what we spend on the non-needy. In an odd way I am thankful that over 2000 years after his birth Jesus Christ is still being sung about and the world eagerly anticipates the day we celebrate his birth even if it does not believe in him. His impact on history is undeniable. For those who think him a myth or just a plain man I dare them to name any other myth or mere man who has impacted the world anywhere close to what Jesus has.
My prayer this and every Christmas is that some will remember what Christmas is really all about. God gave us a gift by sending His son Jesus Christ. That was really the first gift and it was given to the spiritually needy which is all of us. Our response should be worship and thankfulness. We should celebrate God’s gift to us as the Wise Men did. We should remember too that God’s gift would not long later give his life for us. He would die a terrible death to shed his blood to wash away our sins.
Yes Christmas is all about giving. It is all about God giving hope and forgiveness to mankind. It is about the greatest story ever told. A true story. As the prophet Isaiah prophesized hundreds of years earlier:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)
Now that is something worth celebrating! That is Christmas.
Recently my local Christian radio station encouraged listeners to call into their listener line and comment on their best Christmas memories. I have yet to hear any on the air but I imagine the stories will have to do with family reunions, loved ones returning safely from war, a last Christmas with a loved one, or just great fun times. As I thought about it I could not think of a single meaningful Christmas memory. For various reasons I won’t go into holidays in general have never been much celebrated in my life and I have no traditions around any of the holidays. While others are madly dashing to stores in December and attending all sorts of holiday parties and events my Decembers tend to be pretty close to any other month. This Christmas, like some past, I will spend alone yet I can’t say that bothers me. Oh I would love to spend it with someone but at the same time I don’t find it depressing that I will be alone.
Not having traditions has it’s advantages. For me Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. I am not distracted by all the gift giving, events, and family gatherings. At the same time I know December 25th is just a day picked by an ancient Emperor since we don’t know the true day on which Christ was born (probably not in the winter though). As a believer I celebrate the birth of my Savior every day. So while it is nice to gather with other believers in a community celebration Christmas is not that unique for me.
What I told the radio station is that I don’t have any wonderful Christmas memories but perhaps this year will provide one. This might seem backwards but my dear sister is dying of pancreatic cancer. She has fought bravely since March but at this point the cancer has won and her days on this earth are nearing their end. It could even come during this holiday. While it saddens me to no end yet it is a powerful reminder of why Christmas is such a wondrous celebration. We would be without hope had Christ not been born. He came into the world to bring us the Good News and then to pay the price for our sins on the cross. Through His death and resurrection we can live eternally with God in Heaven.
For many the loss of a loved one at Christmas can forever dampen the holiday for them yet for me it will be a celebration of the birth of my Savior and my sister’s Savior. Though we mourn the death of a loved one because we will miss them so badly yet when they know Christ we know they’ve graduated to glory. We cry because we miss them and feel the loss of them in our life yet we cry not because they are without hope and we will never see them again. Now we look forward to that day we will be reunited with them for all eternity in the very presence of God Himself.
To me the story of the birth of Jesus overcomes our human affairs. In the future my celebration of Christmas will come with the glorious reminder that the birth of our Savior means I will see my sister again.
There is nothing wrong with gathering with family and friends to celebrate Christmas or to attend events and such. As Christians though we need to find our true meaning in what the birth means. Hope was born that night!