Christmastime seems to be fraught with stresses and arguments, doesn't it? Christians, in particular, vary in their thoughts from one side of the spectrum to the other; from thinking it ought to be lavishly celebrated, to thinking that the best way to honor Christ is to ignore this holiday completely. Some aren't sure exactly what to think so there's a bit of sloppy compromising in the middle with some internal hope that they'll avoid sin by not leaning too far in either direction. Many are just looking for that pat on the back which allows us to move along into January without being hassled too much.
I've met and made friends with people of all persuasions. I am friends with people who have chosen not to celebrate Christmas at all because Jesus wasn't born on December 25th. I'm friends with plenty of people who worry about infusing their own "meaning" into the holiday, afraid that they'll accidentally miss the true reason behind it all. For my part, you should know that I swing merrily on the side of celebrating as wildly as possible and I'll explain why that's so in just a minute.
The question so often posed between these three sections of the Christian populace is whether we can agree to disagree. Firstly, I've come to the conclusion that saying we 'agree to disagree' is a somewhat farcical statement. I am not agreeing. I'm just disagreeing. Is this wrong? No. We can respectfully disagree. Are disagreements bad? What should disagreements ultimately cause us to do? I think disagreements should drive each of us to scripture so that we can each understand our positions better and examine the facts of what God would have us believe. In Christ there is unity, and grace helps get us there.
Secondly, and more importantly, I think the question about 'agreeing to disagree' is the wrong one to be asking.
For my part and my position, Christmas is a delightful, wonderful, beautiful season. I like it because of the music, the sounds, the smells, the happy, the gifts (yes, I love gifts!), the colorful lights, the food and the Lord who gave us all good gifts to enjoy. I don't believe that Jesus was likely born on December 25th but I appreciate the church calendar which allows us to celebrate things like Jesus' birth, death and resurrection in set-apart moments. These calendared celebrations provide a litany to our lives that we can revel and rest in. It has been said that it is inappropriate at best to celebrate Christ's birth because the more important part of His earthly life was His death. But He could not have died in the manner He did until He had first been born in the manner He was. When I look at scriptures I do not see an exact birthday given but I do see a thousand details of the event being portrayed in the Gospels. I hear of Angels heralding the news that a child was born to all of us to save the world from sin. It is not news that I am told to fear, but rather that I am to rejoice in. If all scriptures are applicable and sufficient for teaching and learning to live a life of righteousness, than I have to believe that the Angels had news for me as well, and not just the shepherds.
The Old Testament is crammed full of seasons and celebrations that the children of Israel were commanded to enjoy. Why were they commanded to observe these holidays and celebrations? Why were we given a day to rest out of each week? The litany of life provides time to rest, time to work, time to celebrate, times to eat, times to plant, times to harvest, times to love and embrace, and times to refrain from embracing. There's a beautiful melody in this litany which gives us the time we need to reflect, rest, pray and, yes, to make merry.
Life is hard. I think that's a statement that everyone can at least roughly agree with. (There's more of a solidarity of agreement in that statement post 30 years of age, I think.) There are hardships to endure in this life, all of which I believe bear a purpose but which nevertheless must be endured. Daily life is sometimes just a real struggle. For some its an issue of getting out of bed every morning. For others its a job situation, or a care giving situation, or broken relationship. The list of what makes our lives hard is very long and the Lord knows what each heart is pleading for in our confession that we need a Savior to help us work our way through the muck and the mire.
Then, almost to taunt us, along comes Christmas. This is a time specific to set apart to rejoice that the Lord has sent such a Savior. Then we . . . fold our arms and say, "Too risky to celebrate that."? Life is hard, but there's this moment that our Christianity provides in which we redirect toward making merry and taking joy in the beauty of the babe sent to earth to die a hideous death for our sins. This baby has been called God's greatest gift to us and I would agree. We were given everything when God sent His son to walk on earth as a man and to bleed out for our sins. Whether our life is bleak, dark, lonely, sad or just a struggle there is this gift which should not be ignored.
Furthermore there is this gift which should inspire our own generosity. Hear me: I am not a good gift giver. In fact, I'm a miserable excuse for one. Giving is something that I find I have to work hard to learn how to do better because I think I ought to be a good gifter. Why do I think this? Because the Lord set the first and supreme example and laid down plenty of arguments in Scripture for me to follow suit. He tells me to give joyfully, not withholding good from others. Proverbs is replete with arguments that the wise and the righteous give and do not hold back in their giving. They do not turn away their neighbor when they have good things in their hands to give. The wise and righteous expend themselves and their possessions to show love to others. I fail at this. In fact, I fail so miserably that I've discovered the need to keep myself in constant practice so that when the time for feasts and celebrations rolls around, I am a little bit more ready than I was the year before.
You see, I don't think we should behave like Christmas lovers only once a year. The Bible doesn't suggest that it is more blessed to give than to receive only in December. Unfortunately, that seems to be a command for the every day. Giving of (and from) ourselves is something that we're called to do in all times and in all seasons. It's very closely linked to the command to show hospitality to others and yet again I find myself with a need to practice hospitality with some regularity in order to see improvement. There's no good excuse for saying, "Well, I'm bad at it" as if that somehow provides you with an exemption. I do not see exceptions for the believers in Scripture. Again, in order to follow Christ we must die to self. We must learn to give of ourselves freely, no holding back. No fear. Just obedience.
Even in saying this I can hear the other argument, "Well, I don't have money to spend on gifts and Christmas celebrations." Don't you now? There are plenty of ways to bless people (all year 'round but especially so at Christmastime) without spending a dime. What it will require is your time. To repeat: it will require a year 'round death to self so that others might live.
Christmas is a season which reminds us of truths we are supposed to hold dear all year long. God sent a gift to us which we can never live up to or repay. Our only response is to show gratitude and to turn around and show love to our neighbors. It's been said that Christians have more reason to rejoice over the Christmas holiday than any other peoples and I do believe that to be true. We understand what we've been given. If we do not understand, we must pray that we will come to know the beautiful truth that Christ was born in order to die in order to give us life everlasting. Without His free gift of love and grace, we would be still bound in sin. We who have been given so much have so much to give. God was not a stingy giver; neither should we be.
When I think of celebrating Christmas, these are the truths I think on. As I have no need of bleeding for my own sins, the way I translate gratefulness is to give of myself - my enthusiasm and talents - to others. My home is opened up. My hands are made busy. I wrap gifts, I bake cookies, I play the Christmas music loud enough to be heard over the noises of my children. We sing together. We admire the Christmas tree and the way it sparkles in the darkness. We rejoice because we have been given so much and because we are given a unique and blessed opportunity to turn around and give to others. We work to give the best of ourselves with each gift. Each gift, whatever it may be, is a small picture of Christ who gave of Himself freely so that all might know him. I give so that others might know me and through me, the Christ.
I think the question that we ask ourselves shouldn't be, "How should I celebrate Christmas?" but "How can I best love others so that they will see Christ in me?" And then ask that question again in January and keep asking it of the Lord daily until the following December.