Putting Christmas back in Christ

  • Hannah Ploegstra
  • 19 December 2016

For many Christians, Christmas can be a rather conflicted season. Ever notice how we gripe our way through the season, over-spending on toys and junk, over-eating, and letting ourselves get "way too busy"… while with the very same breath bemoaning the loss of the "reason for the season" and the way the world has taken over the “true meaning of Christmas"?

This two-faced way of going through December causes some people to attempt to redeem the situation by making Christmas a sacred thing with candles and advent logs and Christmas devotions and reclaiming the candy cane for Jesus. But often these people end up at odds with everyone else, which kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? 

Those inconsistencies are what drove me and my husband to finally call a spade a spade and say, "If Christmas—which isn't even a biblical holiday—is making us hypocritical, judgmental and stressed complainers, what good is it?"

Rather than chucking the whole idea, we’ve chosen to let Christmas be like hamburgers and baseball and apple pie—a cultural experience we treasure because, as humans, we're culture-bound (yes, you picked it, we’re also American). And, like all those things, Christmas is something that can be enjoyed to the glory of God—or not, if we aren’t careful.

The Bible never once suggests that the birth of Christ ought to be celebrated; the early custom of birthday celebration was so rooted in magic, astrology, and pagan idol worship that Jews and early Christians would have had nothing to do with birthdays. That said, if someone wants to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus on December 25, I think Jesus gets it. The nations have come to him and they’ve brought him some of their quirky customs; the nations are worshipping him in ways that make sense to them.

The simple truth is, Christmas is an artifact of our early days when Constantine snagged a pagan fertility holiday (which just happened to be observed on December 25) and slapped Jesus’ birthday over the top of it—disregarding, of course, that Jesus was probably born some time earlier in autumn, during a warmer time of year when shepherds could have actually been sleeping in the fields with their sheep. Later, the Roman Catholic Church dedicated special days to important saints and devoted a ‘mass’ or church service for that saint on that day—Jesus’ special birthday service being held on December 25. As a religious holiday, Christmas is so marbled with heresy, paganism, and idolatry, it’s probably best not to get too worked up about trying to restore “the reason for the season”.

It’s a bit silly fretting and fuming and fighting about how to “put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas” when he never actually put himself there. Instead, we need to bring Christmas—and all our days, seasons, and customs—under the influence and purposes of Christ. He’s the big event that every aspect of human life and culture should celebrate.

He is our perpetual holy-day. On February 14 I remember his never-faltering love for me. On July 4 (my country’s independence day) I stand in awe of his righteous and perfect rule, more everlasting and true than any government of the world. On the days in between, any number of occurrences, sights, or memories can turn my attention back to him. Can I celebrate him on December 25? Yes! Let me count the ways.

For starters, courtesy of Constantine and his rather misguided tribute to Jesus, December 25 is full of talk and singing about the incarnation. No problem with that, except I’m a bit perplexed why we don’t sing ‘Joy to the World’ in June. (Great theology in those lyrics.)

But what about our ‘worldly’ Christmas customs? Did you ever notice how many of them can remind us of the second coming of Christ, simply by our honest enjoyment of these good blessings?  For example:

  • The anticipation of Christmas day during the Christmas season teaches me to look forward to and focus on his coming, which will commence the most merry season of all.
  • The tree in my living room reminds me of the new creation, and the evergreen tree of life that will be in our midst, free for enjoying.
  • The presents remind me that Christ's dominion over all things will bring endless pleasure and satisfaction and delight. Every day, every moment, every experience in his new world will be a gift, exciting and fresh and full of joy and love.
  • The lights of Christmas that make the streets and houses sparkle remind me that his light will be everywhere—delightful light.
  • The abundance of singing, fellowship, and merrymaking remind me of the constant joy we will share together.

Ah, but what to do about Santa? Whose side is he on?

I don't worry too much about Santa. That jolly fat fellow is no more good or evil—and certainly no more real—than Mickey Mouse or Peter Rabbit—just a fun storybook character. I know he used to be a real guy (hi Nicholas), but his original identity has been so caricatured through history and legend that the Santa we find on wrapping paper and old ladies’ sweaters isn’t real. (Sorry, kids.)

The fact is, Christmas is a lot like the clothes we wear and the food we eat and the TV shows we choose to watch. That is to say:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Cor 6:12)

Christmas wasn’t mandated by God; it’s a relic of our culture. To whatever extent it can be helpful to us in our walk with Christ without dominating us, let’s embrace it. Let’s bring Christmas—like everything else—under the lordship and purpose of Christ and celebrate it—along with all the blessings of this life—because of what he’s doing in our lives as we wait for him to bring in the real new year.

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