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The Problem With Christmas (and the promise)

“We should get out of Christmas.”  That’s what a very devout friend of mine recently said.  She meant that we should just stop the whole candy-cane-wrapped production because by playing the game we are often a part of the problem.

What problem?  That the happy-face-tinsel-festival eclipses the Messiah in a manger.

There are a lot of people who agree we should “get out of Christmas.”  Usually we think of more “extreme” branches within Christianity that have stopped the December debacle.  They usually say that no event named “Christmas” is in the Bible so we shouldn’t mark it (despite the fact that there are stories about Jesus’ birth).  Up until fairly recently Presbyterians were one of the denominations that didn’t celebrate Christmas either.  But they jumped on board despite the protest.

Others say that early Christians usurped a pagan festival, making it their own.  They needed a day to celebrate Jesus’ birth so they found one and reshaped it for different purposes.  People guess at what the exact date was, but no one really knows for sure.  But it doesn’t really matter, does it.  A baby was left on a doorstep in Toronto.  No one knows the real date of birth.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not important or that they don’t pick a date and celebrate!  Certain moments in life are important even if a few of the details are foggy.

But some of the people I know just think that the simplicity of the stable and message of God’s pursuing love has become overshadowed by the crush of consumerism.

I’m also confused by those who say “Welcome to Canada – It’s ‘Merry Christmas’ here.”  I’m confused because Christmas has nothing to do with what country you’re from.  It’s not a patriotism issue.  I saw a t-shirt a few months ago that said, “Welcome to Canada, speak English.”  Huh?  Shouldn’t it have said, “Welcome to Canada, speak Algonquin”?  Or, “Ojibwe”?  We get country issues mixed up with everything else.  If Christmas is to be meaningful, we need to know what we’re doing.  It’s not about a country.  It’s about faith.  It’s about re-grounding ourselves in Christ and his birth.  God running after our lost world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Christmas is God looking at his kids and their truckload of problems and sending his Son on a rescue mission of love.  In a smelly stable God shows himself; he gets his hands dirty because he cares.

That said, here are 3 signs that Christmas may be a problem.

  1. You spend too much money you don’t have.
  2. You’re better at being a tornado of busyness than a person of prayer.
  3. You go out of your way to say “Merry Christmas” but struggle to express your faith.

This is tough for all of us.  I know.  Look at people’s eyes.  It’s easy to see.

But I don’t agree with my friend that we “should get out of Christmas.”

I think we need to keep doing Christmas.  Just because someone throws some mud in your hair doesn’t mean you have to cut it all off.  We need to become artists of grace painting brushstrokes of wonder.  Yes, even though what we call Christmas is often an embarrassing cacophony of greed.  I think doing Christmas well is a hilltop of hope in our world.  I get the sense that, for some reason, at this time of year as people mourn what has passed, and as they consider the failure or success of their dreams, and as they look ahead to what might be, humanity is open once more to the great possibilities of God.  Maybe, just maybe.  Hang a star on a tree and make a wish.

Here are three prospects of promise.

1. Praise.  After all, it’s Jesus’ birthday.  You could send him a Facebook message or quick email, but that’s just not the same as showing up.

2. Talk about the story.  Before you do this, downplay the presents.  We wonder why the gifts and spending take over but often don’t see that it’s because we talk it up all the time.  In some inner, dark place, we secretly love it.  “Santa coming?”  So shift the focus: Talk as a family or with your friends about those people in the nativity scene and who they might be today.  Make a cake on Christmas Eve or Day for Jesus.  Whatever you do, make sure you are doing what you’re doing with both eyes open.

3. Give.  Do something that reminds you that a big part of faith involves blessing others.  We call it love.  It’s like oxygen.  So central and simple that we forget it’s there.  But take it away and we’re gasping for life.  Give.

These aren’t hard, fancy things.  But that’s the point.  I like rollercoasters.  But not in December.

No matter what country you’re in, have a Merry Christmas.  No, wait, strike that.  Have a Blessed Christmas.

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2 Comments »

  1. I’ve often thought about giving up on Christmas, but if it’s handled well, it can be at least an opportunity to opening up a Christian conversation. People seem a bit more willing to ‘talk religion’ in this season, and there are a few who might even chance a visit to church. It’s a matter of being prepared to open up the conversation when you get the opportunity, and having something appropriate on at church, that they can relate to. It’s hard to lose it, so we might as well use it!

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    • Hi Jeannette, thanks for the comment! Sorry for the delay in responding — but I definitely agree. One writer talks about “thin places,” where and when the divide that exists for so many people between faith and unbelief seems more porous. (The latter moving through and toward the former.) As you say, at Christmas there is an opportunity. There are more “thin places” and authentic conversations can happen more readily, perhaps because we are willing to open up a bit and toy with seeing with our hearts and not just our eyes. I hope you have a blessed Christmas!

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