And, I mean, really love Christmas.
For me, Christmas held a certain power – a mysticism – that fixed everything wrong in the world, even if only for a day, or a week. There was a sort of magic that enveloped Christmas that was beyond explanation. Like no other time of the year, families come together, friends gather for a meal, co-workers plan parties.
And, then, there’s the giving. We give gifts to those around us who are close to us, and we even go out of our way to give something to those we don’t know who are less fortunate, those in need. There’s an indescribable urge to give joy to another person through some sort of materialistic trinket – a tie, a pair of socks, a diamond necklace, a watch – stuff that we really don’t need but, for some reason, feel entitled to demand at Christmas.
I won’t even start on Santa Claus.
Yes…I loved Christmas. As holidays go, it was firmly entrenched at the top of my list.
The problem I have now is this: Christmas has been hijacked. This isn’t something new, or recent. Instead of a day, it has become a weeks-long dance that whirls and whirls to a frenzy until December 25. We’ve lost the aspect of anticipation, of waiting, of looking forward to the day. We completely miss the advent of the Christ-child and live in a take-it-for-granted world that Jesus is born.
At its foundation, Christmas is a day to celebrate the birth of Christ. While we can’t say for certain that December 25 is the day of Jesus’ birth, it was designated long ago as the day to recognize that God became man to save us from our sins. Yet, the celebration – no, the hysteria – that surrounds Christmas has evolved into a giant festival of activities, none of which acknowledges the birth of a Redeemer.
People camp out on Thanksgiving Day so that they can get a TV for half price at midnight…when stores open for Black Friday. Sounds ominous. I’m sure it is if your the one with your face pressed against the front doors because of the thousands behind you inching their way forward in anticipation.
We have parties. Not a party. Parties. And heaven forbid we say “no” to one invitation that would leave a night free.
We hunt for the right gift. It’s not a simple process. It has to be the right gift. It takes days, and the process can be long and arduous.
We eat. Night after night, party after party…we eat.
And, the last thing we’re thinking of is Christ.
I think the Puritans had the right idea. They didn’t celebrate Christmas. As a matter of fact, it was illegal. Andreas Kostenberger states in A Puritan Christmas that,
…a Puritan Christmas is in fact—no Christmas at all.
In 1642…“the Puritan-led English parliament asked citizens not to celebrate Christmas in any way, other than private respectful prayer.” Yet not everyone was prepared to abide by this ordinance. In 1645, then, Parliament went one step further, declaring that only Sundays were holy days. Unless Christmas fell on a Sunday, people must report to work.
The Puritans were probably a bit extreme. I’m not an advocate for jail time for those who celebrate Christmas. But, I do think, though, that our focus should be on Advent – a time to longingly look for the Messiah to come. It trains us and prepares us for anticipating the second coming of Christ. That’s where our hope is.
In the Bible, God’s people were constantly yearning for the promised Messiah. A Deliverer. The Prince of Peace. Prophet after prophet foretold that One was coming, and the people of Israel longed for the day. They ached for Jesus’ arrival.
Jesus did come. And, yes, we celebrate that. Yet, like the children of Israel in the Old Testament, we need to look forward to the day when Jesus will come again. One author states
The season of Advent looks back, to a time before the birth of Christ, to show us how the people of God learned hope in ancient times. And then the season of Advent looks forward, far beyond the birth of Christ, to the true object of our faith, the King who comes to conquer the darkness, restore creation, and establish his Kingdom for ever. We see in the stories of ancient Israel and in the writings of the prophets a world very much like our own, a world of people rebelling against God and finding themselves lost in darkness again and again. The prophets also show how God has a plan, not only for his people Israel but for the whole world–a plan that extends beyond the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The coming of the Messiah then, at a remarkable moment of peace in the ancient world, was not the completion of God’s plan. Nevertheless, it was the turning point, the critical sign which assures us that there is reason to hope. And so, in Advent we recall the ancient prophecies and signs which led to the birth of the Messiah, and we look forward in hope, applying those same prophecies and signs to the world in which we live, in hope and faithful anticipation that the same Messiah, Jesus Christ, will come again as he promised.
The season and trappings of Christmas has consumed us. It has become an ogre that must be fed year after year. Yet, I think that we can rediscover the anticipation of the advent of Christ. Yes, celebrate his birth, but, even more, look forward to the day when Christ will come and make all things new.