When I was a little girl, I began looking forward to Christmas as soon as the first autumn breeze cooled the air and whisked summer into memory. Even as a little girl, I would start in September making gifts for my family and friends. I made eye-glass cases, tobacco pouches, pin cushions, and sachet bags filled with dried flowers and herbs – all handmade with a child’s clumsy stitches and remnants from my mother’s sewing bag. And there were also handwritten bookmarks and short stories and poems for my brothers and peers. I loved the opportunity to give to those I loved. I simply loved everything about the season: the lights, the decorations, the food, the music, and everything else that made the season special. I loved the Christmas story and Christmas pageants at church that reenacted that beautiful bible story.
After I was married and had children of my own, I shared my love of the season with them and tried to make our own family traditions special. But somewhere during my lifetime – perhaps it began a little before my time but particularly in my generation – Christmas decorating, giving, and almost every aspect of the holiday except its biblical focus went on overload. The focus seemed to shift from the story of Christ’s birth to the gifts and the decorations and the need to have more, give more, and do more in an attempt to buy the peace and happiness that seemed unattainable to many. At the same time we tried to diminish or confine to the church the message that our ancestors proclaimed was the ‘reason for the season’. We tried to minimize anything that mentioned the good news of the gospel – the good news declared at His birth, “A Savior is born!”
And as the pendulum in American culture swung towards over-commercializing the holiday in which Christians for hundreds of years have celebrated and remembered Christ’s birth, others began researching the origins of our Christmas traditions and discovered much to their dismay that most of them were rooted in pagan holidays and customs. So many Christians quit celebrating Christmas altogether.
When I discovered the roots of the traditions I loved so much, my heart was torn and I took a close look at every tradition and why I loved it. My extended family became split over the issue as some tossed the holiday altogether and did not want to even gather to share a meal, while others continued to celebrate exactly as we did when we were children.
And while my own family still celebrated Christmas, I tried to make every decoration and everything we did purposeful. We did away with our Christmas tree, since we felt it over-emphasized the gifts and the materialism of the season although we continued and still continue to exchange gifts as tokens of our love and appreciation for one another. Santa was never an issue or even mentioned much in our home and my children always knew who gave them their gifts. And while I realize I could give to others at any time, this season reminds me to give – it provides opportunity to give where I might not make other opportunities. I find myself annually giving to friends and ministries that I sadly forget during the busyness of the year.
Last Saturday I wrapped my front porch railing in greenery and lights and exchanged the fall welcome signs and decorations on my porch for some more greenery and pine cones, poinsettia, and green wreaths with red and white ribbons. While I wrapped my porch in lights, I kept thinking how fitting it was to decorate with lights during the darkest season of the year and how every time I see Christmas lights I think about how a light has come into this dark world.
Inside I decorated the mantel with lights and candles and a few glittery balls and as I admire the beauty of my masterpiece, I think about how we as humans created in God’s image admire beautiful things. Usually it is the beauty of nature that turns my thoughts heavenward, but the finery, the glitter, and the gold of this season reminds me that even the prettiest decorations and the costliest furnishings cannot compare to the things our Father has laid up for us in heaven.
And this year as I set out my manager scene, I added another touch – opposite the manager scene I carefully arranged a white scarf, a wine glass partially filled with red candle wax, a small plate with flat bread, and a few white candles to remember that we cannot think on Christ’s birth without also being reminded of his death.
This was inspired by Kirk Cameron’s movie, Saving Christmas which my kids and I went to see the weekend before Thanksgiving. And while I may not agree with Kirk Cameron’s stance on every aspect of this issue, it was nice to see a movie that addressed the changes that have influenced how we view the Christmas holiday.
I will not say whether Christians should or should not celebrate Christmas, but I will say with Paul, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19)
Paul says earlier in that same chapter, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” (Romans 14: 5-6)
We are not told to remember Christ’s birth, but we are told to tell the world the Messiah has come. He died and rose again to save us. Each time we partake of the Lord’s supper – as often as we do it – we are to remember His body given for us and His blood shed for us. He was born to die but death could not keep Him. The Messiah has come into the world to dwell among men and He will return to gather us to Himself so we can dwell with Him! But He has not left us – He is Immanuel, God with us!
And whether we celebrate Christmas or not, as Christians we should be the most joyous of people. If we choose not to celebrate, we should use our convictions as opportunity to share the truth of the gospel and pray the joy and peace we carry outshines the glitz and glitter of the world. If we celebrate, we should celebrate purposefully, and like Paul as he stood in the midst of Mars hill and used the altar with the inscription to the unknown god as opportunity to proclaim the gospel, we should always be looking for opportunities to share the gospel with a world that knows not what they worship.
But whether we have little or much; whether we give and receive gifts or give and receive nothing at all; whether we surround ourselves festive decorations and feast with family and friends or simply step out into the cold, dark, night to gaze up at the stars and worship in solitude; we should be a joyful people who are continually celebrating all year long because we have reason to celebrate! A light has come into the world! We have been given the greatest gift – Christ was born to die for us and he has paid the price for our sin and redeemed us! So let us go and tell all the World!