Is it, truly, the most wonderful time of the year?
I’m a big fan of Christmas. I don’t really care when they start or stop playing Christmas music on the local radio stations. It doesn’t bother me that much to see stores putting out Christmas decor early. I love the traditions of looking at Christmas lights in and around neighborhoods, decorating, drinking hot chocolate, watching holiday-themed movies, and spending time with my wife and family. I love giving loved ones gifts.
There is one thing that bothers me about Christmas, however. More than anything, I am frustrated and irked by the threats posed to Christmas itself and everything it should stand for.
Some of you are tempted to begin scrolling quickly. “Here goes the typical, Evangelical rant against the commercialization and materialism of Christmas.” You’re waiting for the “Jesus is the reason for the season” punchline at the end of this post. But perhaps to your surprise, you won’t find an endorsement of that position here. Quite the opposite, in fact.
There is a massive threat to Christmas that Christians are facing, and if we are not careful to stay on the offensive against this threat, we will watch everything Christmas is supposed to represent get lost in a holiday haze. But please understand this: this threat to Christmas is much bigger, much more widespread than a blank, red coffee cup. This threat is much more severe than calling a Christmas gathering a “holiday party.” The true enemy of Christmas is an emphasis on Christmas as a “story” or a “season.”
The temptation to view Christmas as a “story” is a potential threat to the historically verifiable narrative of the Incarnation. Recently on the way home I listened to Michael Bublé’s rendition of “Silent Night.” Of course, it was beautifully arranged and performed in typical Bublé fashion. But then I was interested to look into his religious views. Bublé has said before that he’s “not into organized religion” and that he “has a relationship with that one thing…the universe, God…you can call it Jesus, or Jehovah, or Buddha, whatever you want.”
Whatever Bublé’s religion (post-modern pantheism with a dash of agnosticism?), it is clear that he is able to sing “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth” without shaking, because for him (and many others) it is simply the Christmas story. It’s a near-mythological urban legend we unwittingly lump together with “A Christmas Carol” and “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” instead of serving as proclamations of rich theology, have been treated as poetic, sweet-sounding musings surrounding the great fable of Christmas. It all sounds nice. Angelic beings, shepherds following stars, wise men bearing gifts, a baby boy born in a stable. But this boy being a “Savior, who is Christ the LORD” (Lk. 2:11)? Does that fit the world’s desire for a mere story?
Another great threat to the message of Christmas is when we emphasize that Christmas is a “season.” In the same way that winter will come and go, so does Christmas. I think this is brilliantly demonstrated in how we handle our ornaments and decorations every year. When we deem the time right, we climb into the attic or into the depths of the rarely-used closet to pull out our totes and boxes. We undo the lights, unpack the decorations, put everything out, and marvel at the display for a while. Then, when we’re ready, we put it all back in its right place for storage, stow away our stuff, and don’t touch it for another eleven months.
December is devoted to pulling out all the stops to put on Christmas programs, events, parties, and the like. If we are not careful, we will turn Christmas into simple reserved space on our calendars. Christmas becomes the “things we do” instead of the “ways we live.” As my pastor recently said, “When we get preoccupied by [Christmas] we miss the joy of Christmas.”
Secular culture is not killing Christmas for us. Like Herod, they may in their fury try to kill off this offensive, authentic, and everlasting message (Mt. 2:16, 27:31), but they will not succeed (Mt. 2:19–23, 28:6). What will kill Christmas is something much more elusive, something that will be the fault of Christians and not of those who get anxious over Christmas vocabulary and nativity scenes. If we Christians treat the Christmas story as precisely astory, or the Christmas season as precisely a season, we are communicating to the world that Christmas is nothing more than an annual dosage of ambiguous fluff.
In the first Advent, God had something more than a tall tale or a ritual in mind:
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this (Isa. 9:7).
We are not called to compartmentalize Christmas into the confines of a storybook or a calendar month. We do not celebrate and read a simple literary phenomenon, but rather a spiritual, physical, actual phenomenon, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:9). We do not celebrate a season, but a secured eternity the Newborn King came to accomplish.
The greatest danger posed to your Christmas this year is forgetting that we sing about and read about a miraculous happening that was meant to affect everyday worship.
Jesus is more than a neat story and more than a seasonal item for display. He’s the living God who humbled Himself, ushering in the dawn of redeeming grace. It is the happiest season of all, but ours doesn’t evaporate on December 26th. We hold to something stronger than mere story or season.