Thoughts on Christmas

I have to admit, I normally have mixed feelings as Christmas approaches each year.

There are certain things I like about the holiday. There’s the special music that is only played a month or so each year. I enjoy the beautiful lights that bedazzle homes and businesses. And permission to gorge on large meals shared with family and friends is always welcomed.

But there are many things I dislike about the season as well.

Every year people are injured as stores kick-off the shopping season with “Black Friday”. This year, there were reports of people being punched, pepper sprayed and even shot over toys, trinkets and TVs.

There’s also the “culture wars”. Do we say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”? I’ve watched on Facebook as people grapple with the issue, and are blasted by folks on either side for their choice. It’s wearying to worry about two words so much.

Christianity’s critics declare open season this time of year, too.

Invariably, channels like PBS and National Geographic run shows that cover biblical events and persons like the Great Flood and Jesus. These “documentaries” cloak themselves as thoughtful discussions of the faith, but in reality they interview far more critics than Christians.

The atheist “Freedom from Religion Foundation” runs an anti-religion billboard campaign around Christmastime. A couple of years ago they bought sign space near my office. The background had a stained glass appearance, over which were lyrics from a popular John Lennon song: “Imagine No Religion”. So much for tolerance and quiet respect for the beliefs of others.

Bloggers take to social media to skewer the faith and attack believers. They knock the holiday and blast adherents as being uninformed dupes who don’t realize that Christmas trees and other traditions have their roots in paganism.

So what to do with all this?

For me, I take the parts of the season I like and I leave the rest behind. It’s not a biblically mandated holiday. Christians are only commanded to observe two rites that focus on Jesus’s death and resurrection–baptism and Lord’s Supper. We are not commanded to observe Christ’s birth.

Building memories and spending time together means a lot to me, and I value that over gifts. In recent years I have requested that in lieu of a gift, my family make a donation in my name to Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision or Compassion International. Some children are blessed if they have one small meal a day, let alone toys or even basic medical care. It’s meaningful to me that someone’s child have such basics, rather than for me to receive an extravagant gift. But gift-giving is such a cultural hallmark that it’s hard to get folks to change.

As for the culture wars, I have moderated over the years. I still won’t patronize any business that purposely blocks the word “Christmas”, but otherwise I don’t worry too much about where I shop. I also don’t fret over saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. I live around and work with people of different religions, and saying Merry Christmas to them is about as meaningful as a Muslim wishing me to have a Happy Ramadan. I would rather my daily life testimony lead them to Christ.

However, I’m not willing to yield Christmas.

This is the one time of year that the word “Jesus” isn’t only used as part of cussing in the popular culture. People are primed to think of spiritual things, and many folks who never attend church will yield to prodding spouses or parents. It’s a great opportunity to share faith.

And what is that faith? It is the “gospel”, which means “good news”. The bad news is clear to us all. Death, disease, discord and disaster surround us every day. We see beauty, but it is punctuated by evil.

The good news offered by Jesus Christ–and by extension His Church–is this: there will be an end to this mess we live in. There is a sovereign God who watches over our world. At his appointed time, he will draw it to a conclusion and give us the world we hope for. For now, it is our lot to trust God by faith in Jesus Christ as his one and only son, born into the world to suffer just as we do, and to offer us salvation and a hope for the future. He offers us guidance and strength in the temporal while we wait for the eternal.

And so, as we observe the birth of Christ on December 25, it doesn’t matter if this is the actual day he was born or not. What matters is the he was born. That event split our very reckoning of time and more than 2000 years later still shakes up the world.

I sincerely hope that all of you reading this will see through the trappings of the season, and will see some vestige of Jesus Christ. In that way, may you have a Merry Christmas.