I have such mixed feelings this time of year, which is odd because I really enjoy Christmas. Really! I always have. Growing up in a ‘Christian’ ministry family, I really celebrated Christmas in two worlds: church and state. At ‘church’ we celebrated by reading the Christmas story, enacting it in pageants, singing carols and Christmas hymns, and thanking Jesus for coming to earth to save us from our sin.
Everywhere else (TV, school, town, neighbourhood, and our own imaginations), we were bombarded with a very different image. Where I come from, December is an incredible month of decorations, well-wishing, good cheer, wonderful smells, and flavours, family and friends. My parents used to take my sisters and me to the Cincinnati arboretum to see the ‘christmas tree’ made of poinsettias. Then we would walk through the winter wonderland of participating malls downtown topped off by visiting the train display at CG&E. Even now I find myself wishing I could give that life to my kids.
Should I want that for my kids?
Some of the articles I’ve been reading about where our Christmas traditions come from have not been helpful. Sure, it’s easy to decry santa and commercialism. It even seems right to strongly emphasize the ‘spiritual’ side of Christmas, and talk about the importance of our life in Christ every day (not just on holidays), which we seem to easily forget. Some suggest banning Christmas altogether because it isn’t “biblical”, which I think is harsh (especially since their research is a bit shoddy and they had to use scripture out of context to make a point).
How does this help us navigate culture?
I get the call for Christian’s not to give way to consumerism and not lose sight of the reason for the season. The growing concern over the “war on Christmas” may be valid but we talk about it like the world is actually listening and even cares that Christmas is ostensibly about Jesus. The world is listening. I just doubt whether it really cares Jesus even bothered to come, which makes me think the church is missing something. Can people really hear us when our message is angry or contradictory? When all we do is find fault with the way society celebrates Christmas and fret that somehow unbelievers don’t get it that Christmas (though hijacked from a pagan holiday) is about Jesus, not consumerism, we need to step back a bit and ask ourselves:
What can we expect from pagans?
My family and I just got back from the mall. Aside from the Buddhist icons and folks dressed up like it’s warm outside, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas (sans the snow)… in northern Thailand! However, Thais are not celebrating Jesus. Frankly, I’m uncertain what they are celebrating. What is clear though, is that they have finally figured out that December and Christmas is the best (lucrative) time of the year. Christmas has become an acceptable cultural adaptation that marketers have been more than happy to push to its logical conclusion. This makes me think that no matter how we rearrange the accoutrements or even if we change the dates, consumerism will eventually find a way to exploit holidays. I know this because even the Buddhist holidays are equally exploited here. Secularism runs deep. Explaining the real dates of Christ’s birth or exposing the pagan customs that were christianized in church history, now taken over by secularism, really misses an opportunity to reach into culture with Christ’s good news.
Even though we all walk in darkness, a great light has come bringing joy, ending oppression, making all things right. The source of this good news is bound up in a child given for us. This child is more than a philosophical reason to christianize pagan customs or even make a big deal about the fact that pagans have taken back the customs with a vengeance. The child, who now lives within the heart of every believer, came to restore relationship between us and him. The real holy-day is best found in the way believers live the reality of Jesus born in us.