Obviously I’m not trying to be unique when I say Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love snow and twinkling lights and I get warm-fuzzies when I look at Normon Rockwell paintings of people ice-skating on quaint ponds with bright red scarves and rosy cheeks. This season turns me into the most kitschy, nostalgic sap on the planet. And I’m okay with that. I really love Christmas.
But I’m also not naïve, and as I’ve grown up I’ve realized the Christmas that gives me those warm-fuzzies isn’t very closely related to the holiday that’s supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of God. The religious Christmas and the secular Christmas both happen to fall on the same day, but they celebrate two very different, perhaps contradictory things. Sure, if we try really hard we can convince ourselves that buying lots of stuff and eating large meals is a perfectly meaningful way to celebrate Christ’s coming, but it’s a stretch.
Darn, there I go being grinchy. I thought this post was supposed to be about why I’m not going to be a grinch this year? What was I getting at?
Oh yah…so it should also be obvious that I’m not trying to be unique when I rag on the consumerist, materialistic bonanza that Christmas has become. I’m not the first person that’s been troubled by this, and you don’t have to be St. Francis to realize that Black Friday and doorbusters and evergreen trees surrounded by boxes don’t point us to Jesus.
Consequently, throughout the last several years it’s been difficult for me to truly celebrate the great Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter) because I’ve been so bothered by the secularization thing. What does a stocking hung by the chimney with care have to do with the Virgin Birth? What do a bunny and a basket have to do with the Resurrection? These are real questions, and as a young husband and father I’ve been trying to figure out how my family is going to celebrate these holidays in a way that honors their true significance.
And while I was busy figuring this out, I forgot to marvel at the God lying there in the manger; I forgot to rejoice at the empty tomb.
This is a big problem. In my effort to reclaim the true meaning of the Christian holidays I had, in fact, ceased to celebrate them.
As I reflect on it now it seems so silly: I’m all bothered that our celebrations ignore and contradict the religious events that propagated them; so instead, I’ll spend all my energy worrying about how everyone is doing it wrong. God came to earth and then defeated death, and now this same God needs me to be all grouchy about the way people spend their money.
Don’t get me wrong, as someone passionate about theology and Christian ministry, I care deeply about who the church is and what the church does. In fact, I spend a lot of my time pondering the ways we can more faithfully follow the Christ we profess. I want to be an effective Christian minister and participate in communities that earnestly follow Jesus, thus I’m motivated by our potential to be different, to be better witnesses to the God we worship. The way we celebrate these holidays is one of those areas we can be better.
But like I said, whether my energy this Christmas is wasted on Best Buy’s latest sale or wasted on how badly I want to kick everyone in the head who waits outside Best Buy for that sale, it’s wasted nonetheless. It just doesn’t make sense, in light of the Incarnation, to feel such pressure to fix everything that’s wrong with Christmas. That’s kind of the point of the Incarnation of God – we were having trouble fixing anything, so Jesus came and fixed it for us. This is a truly liberating reality, and it’s helped me enjoy this season so much more.
I love Christmas. I really love it. And this year I will pour myself a cup of coffee and sit by the window while it snows and turn on Pandora’s Christmas station…and be happy. Christ has come, and Christ will come again.