”Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you.” – Tim Keller
People talk a lot here about ‘getting in the Christmas spirit,’ and how hard it is to do it over here. There’s no snow or cold… which I personally enjoy – I’d rather be able to spend time outside around Christmas than have the White Christmas effect.
I apologize in advance for times this may seem rant-ish. I don’t mean to rant or sound angry but sometimes it’s hard, especially over internet, to not sound that way. I know there are people who do Christmas like this. I know there are people who don’t do it as Christ’s birth but just a tradition. I know there are people who do it all as joy in Christ’s birth. I know there are people who do it and don’t care.
Some of you may know I have reservations about celebrating Christmas… but here’s a few thoughts for Christmas celebrators and non-celebrators alike.
I’ve been reading J.I. Packer’s book, “Knowing God,” and this re-triggered some thoughts about Christmas. The main thing was his comments on “Christmas Spirit.”
“We talk glibly of the “Christmas spirit,” rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis,” Packer writes. “Christmas Spirit” is something we ‘conjure’ up, to make us feel happier, but just one season of the year. It’s cookies and music and fairy lights, trees, cold, ornaments,and family time.
Packer continues: “But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.”
In otherwords: If Christmas is really about Christ and His birth, shouldn’t we focus on what He came to do, and being like Him? And shouldn’t we as Christians have the joy and delight people have at Christmastime all year ’round? (for the record: I love Christmas carols. The ones that are biblically accurate (meaning not Santa and not some of the ‘Christian’ ones that take lots of liberty and poetic license) should be sung ALL year round, especially the ones that discuss the end of his life, too – We Three Kings, Hark the Herald, What Child is This, Joy to the World – to name my favorites.)
So what should Christmas spirit be, then? “It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that the Lord might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians – alas, they are many – whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice-middle class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.”
Christ came to save us, that was the purpose of His birth. So shouldn’t we, at a time when we claim to be celebrating His birth, focus on saving others? There are churches that do quite a lot to meet physical needs at Christmas time. But that’s not enough. Christ didn’t just heal people’s ailments, He forgave their sins, too. And so we need to help them find healing of their sins, not in more HoHo Christmas Spirit, but in Christ.
“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christian spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way there seems need,” Packer finishes.
And it shouldn’t be relegated to Christmas. This needs to be Christians all year ’round.
I’m all for the joy and this kind of Christmas Spirit. But really, we as Christians should have it all the time, because it’s found not in circumstance, but in Christ.
Christmas can be a wonderful season to meditate more on this and sing those wonderful hymns without people laughing and saying it’s not Christmas.
Let’s not lose that thought in the midst of wrapping presents, shopping, crafting, cooking, baking… but let that thought encompass all of our actions.
I just said ‘that thought’ without defining it. What is ‘that thought?’ Glory veiled, paradox of God and man, the foretelling of His death even in His birth, prophecies fulfilled, and humility, to name just a few.
My favorite Christmas CD (well, not-just-Christmas-CDs) of all time is Michael Card’s “The Promise.” It has a lot of really good meditations on and based around Christ’s birth, all set to beautiful music. I was going to say, ‘if you live near me I can loan it to you,’ but then realized I think we’d miss it too much… but let me know if you’re interested in it. 🙂
This is what Christmas is about. Not trees and presents and so many other distractions, but God and man, glory veiled, to dwell with us and live to die that we might live.
“Did Abraham himself not say
God would provide a lamb
To take instead the punishment
That should belong to man
“And so to humble shepherds
Was His glory first revealed
And with His birth a covenant
Made long ago was sealed
” The just and gentle Promised One
Would triumph oe’r the fall
And conquer by His own defeat
And win by losing all.
Vicit Agnus, Noster eum sequamur! (Our Lamb has conquered).
P.S. – some more food for thought, by one of the Six Angles Photographers – mostly about Christmas being on Sunday, but also Christmas in general.