Sunday, October 2, 2011

Merry Monday #4: The Meaning of Christmas

There has always been some revolt (especially amongst Christians) against the commercialization of the Christmas holiday.  As the blessed day approaches, one hears mutterings about how people seem to have 'forgotten the reason for the season' and 'lost sight of the true meaning.'  Occasionally, you meet some fervently devout person who, in protest, has eschewed all participation in the traditional festivities.  Usually, though, these objections to the secularization of Christmas remain somewhat vague and are only half-heartedly expressed.  Many of us wander through the season with a subtle discomfort over the word "X-mas", and nagging guilt over enjoying the gifts and food more than might be godly.

I could not create a 'Merry Mondays' column on my blog without honestly re-examining and expressing my own beliefs about the celebration of Christmas.
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Though the exact date of Christ's birth is debated, December 25th has been set aside as His birthday for the last 1500 years or so (read more here, if you're interested).  It seemed important to Christ-followers to have a day set aside to celebrate this miraculous occurance: that God should come down in human form, and live among us.  If we humans are going to have any parties at all, that seems like the most important thing to party about!  Tied with Easter, when we celebrate His death and resurrection, bringing us victory over sin and death.  Hurrah!

Though the Christmas feast was not ordained by God in scripture, the fact that God invented so many feasts and celebrations in the Old Testament to commemorate significant events in His people's history leads me to believe that the observation of Christmas is in keeping with God's character.  He wants us to set aside special times to celebrate His faithfulness and goodness to us, to remember what He has done, to enjoy good things together, and to provide an extra portion for the needy.  For more detail on a God who insists that His people party, read Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Bible.  

I guess this understanding of God's character (as generous, happy, and surprising), informs my decision to unabashedly enjoy all the tinsel and spice of the season!   There is a God-designed part of humans that wants to sing and dance and shout- all we're waiting for is sufficient reason.  And He is the God that gives one reason after another.

Not only that, but these same attributes of God call me to humble reflection and serious worship.  The Old Testament feasts included both noisy celebration and quiet pondering in balance.  As gift-giving, singing, and eating special foods are all included, too, I don't observe that it was considered more pious to refrain from those celebratory customs.  So, I don't worry that participating in these things will cause me to lose sight of this feast's purpose and theme.  What I am talking about as godly, is a generous and joyful recognition of Jesus' birth.  Obviously, to commit sins of gluttony, greed (over-spending), drunkenness and pride (decorating to keep up with the Jones's)... well, these have no place at Christmas or any other time.  

I do not feel offended by the secularization of Christmas, in my culture.  For someone who does not know and love Jesus, there could be no deep meaning of Christmas; how could we require the non-Christian to attach significance to it?  Their attempt to keep the holiday relevant to themselves (by saying "Happy Holidays" or emphasizing Santa and ignoring Christ) does make sense to me.  I understand it, but it makes me sad to imagine how empty that is.  It would be like having all those V-Day celebrations at the end of the war...the parades and bands and the ticker-tape...but not having had a victory at all-- just deciding to have a hoopla to distract you and comfort you, while the battles raged on overseas.  It does seem rather a lot of bother for a forced smile or two.  No wonder so many people rely heavily on alcohol for a good time, at Christmas.  

But I feel they're welcome at the feast.  Christmas is big enough for all the lookers-on.  I hope the generosity and good cheer of the neighbors, the Salvation Army Santa at the mall entrance, the 'wondering what the heck it's all for' will bring a few of them to question and search.
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And after all, just think!  Once a year the good news is broadcast to the public at large-- when those old carols are played in the shopping malls! 

God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan's power, when we were gone astray.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!...

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