It was during our first Christmas together that Brian and I realized just how differently we viewed the holiday.
"You're not going to lie to our children about Santa Claus," he said. What?? Lie?? Santa is awesome!!
That year I reluctantly told Allie the truth about Santa Claus. On Christmas morning, the gifts were from us, not from Santa.
"They don't need this much stuff. Christmas is over commercialized," was the statement the next year. Huh?? Gifts and cards and stockings are fun! That year we gave fewer gifts and donated more to the needy.
"You know, there's a verse in Jeremiah against putting up a Christmas tree. I'm not sure we should have a Christmas tree in our house." Okay dude, now you've gone too far. I gotta have my tree. We still put up a tree that year. But in the back of my mind I wondered if we were doing the right thing. We celebrated Hannukah with some Torah observant friends, and I loved the depth of meaning in that celebration. It was beautiful and meaningful. I felt a little tug in my spirit and decided that before the next year, I would investigate this whole Christmas thing. The Lord had put some wonderful people in our life who didn't celebrate Christmas "for religious reasons". I asked each of those friends to share Biblical reasons for their choice. I wanted to get to the bottom of this Christmas thing and see for myself what we should be doing.
So I spent the next year searching the Scriptures, asking God for direction, reading blogs, listening to teachings, talking with friends I respect. I learned that there are indeed very pagan rituals behind all of our celebrations at Christmas and Easter. Very disturbing pagan rituals. Particularly at Easter. I was so sad to see how the god of this world has taken the good and beautiful and lovely and made it so very ugly and dark and evil. But as I took each of these things to the Lord in my quiet time and asked Him for direction, I personally came to a few conclusions: 1) it is a wonderful thing to set aside a time each year to celebrate and rejoice in the birth of our Savior, and the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior. No, we don't know for sure when Jesus was born and we probably aren't celebrating it on the right day. But I'm pretty sure He would rather us celebrate His coming to earth on the wrong day than to not celebrate it at all. If we celebrate our own births, how much more should we celebrate His?? 2) He is the ultimate Giver. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights." -James 1:17. While gift giving is not what the season is about- it is about the ultimate Gift- we are being like Him in our giving of gifts. 3) it is a wonderful thing to set aside a time each year to see family, to show our love, to celebrate life and light and all things beautiful. Lights remind us of the ultimate Light of the World- Jesus- so to turn off the lights and close our doors to all things Christmas, to pretend it isn't there, to me would be completely joy-less. And pointless. As followers of the Light of the World, we should have the brightest lights, the merriest hearts, the most joyous celebrations. What a testimony to our Greatest Joy, Jesus. 4) you can't deny the truth that Christmas trees have a pagan implication and can be idols, and that many of our Christmas traditions have no biblical basis at all. But I can assure you that I am not worshipping my tree, nor am I thinking about any other god when I sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" or "O Holy Night". 5) Brian was right- Santa is no longer a part of our celebration, and Christmas is over-commercialized. We still put up a tree, but our celebration has become less and less about the tree or the decor. In some senses we do less and less "Christmas" each year. And in other senses, we do more and more.
This year we have celebrated Advent, and I must tell you, I am more excited about Christmas this year than maybe I have been in my entire life. I've always heard, "Jesus is the reason for the season", but for me this year, He really is. I am seeing and savoring Jesus more this year than ever. I see Him in the lights, in the hugs, in the music, in the gifts, in the sights and smells and warmth of the season. I saw Him the night of Somerville's Drive Thru Christmas, when a sweet lady on the hayride offered me and my nursing infant a warm blanket. That warm blanket felt like Jesus. I saw Him at church when our preacher talked about the fight for Christmas and how Jesus and the dragon have been at odds since Genesis 1 and are still at odds in Revelation 12. I see Him everywhere this year. And I am convinced more after wrestling with it this year, that Christmas is essential to the believer. I'm reading a daily Advent devotional book by Ann Voskamp called The Greatest Gift. She says:
Our God who breathes stars in the dark- He breathes Bethlehem's star, then takes on lungs and breathes in stable air. We are saved from hopelessness because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the iron-sharp edge of our sins. Our God who forms and delivers the black of the heavens- He waits patient like an embryo in a womb and delivers Himself to free you. We are saved from forever pain, because God pierced the dark and came to the pinpoint of us in the universe and took the nails. Our God who cradles whole inkling galaxies in the palm of His hand, whom highest heavens cannot contain- He folds Himself into our skin, and He uncurls His newborn fingers in the cradle of a barn feeding trough- and we are saved from ourselves.
We are saved from our loneliness because God is love and He can't stand to leave us by ourselves, to ourselves.
That is the message of Christmas. The message of Christmas is not that we can make peace. Or that we can make love, make light, make gifts, or make this world save itself.
The message of Christmas is that the world's a mess and we can never save ourselves from ourselves and we need a Messiah.
For unto us a Child is born.
I couldn't have said it better myself.