I can’t decide whether I’m looking forward to Christmas or dreading it. The parties, excitement, decorations, music, and family gatherings are all fun, but is that really what Christmas is about?
I ask my boys, “Hey, guys, what’s the true meaning of Christmas?” They know how to give me the Sunday school answer. But for them and for me and for most of us, we do little more than nod to the baby in the manger. Maybe we take a few hours away from the chaos to worship, but then we are back to craziness of the season.
A more honest answer would be the one my son gave me when he was four: “Christmas is when Santa Claus asked Jesus into his heart.” The sacred and secular are irrevocably intertwined. As Christians, we try to invite baby Jesus to the party, hoping he is honored in the midst of it all.
This plays out in my own family Christmas. We go to a Christmas Eve service followed by a festive family dinner. Christmas morning begins with the boys wondering when they can open presents. Before anyone touches a gift, we read Luke 2 as a family and spend a few moments in prayer. But who am I kidding? It feels like I’m trying to squeeze some recognition of Jesus into a season that has little to do with him. If Jesus is the King of Kings, celebrating his birth certainly deserves more than an obligatory nod before we dive into gifts.
In reality, Christmas is more likely to lead to disappointment than bringing joy to the world—all of the money, time, and hype leading up to one or two days that are supposed to bring happiness and fulfillment. Then the inevitable happens to ruin it all. Someone gets the flu, your kids don’t like the gifts you bought them, or your mother complains she didn’t get to see you on Christmas Eve.
Silently he sleeps in the manger, not disturbing your disappointment and pandemonium. And it is supposed to be about him. . . If it were, there would be no disappointment. Sometimes I wonder, Lord, how do you feel about Christmas? After all, we are never told in Scripture to celebrate it.
In truth, we are more likely to find our Savior in the post-holiday blues, disgusted with ourselves for eating too many sweets and spending too much money. Perhaps Christmas has simply become the annual proof that our materialism and even our obsession with family won’t bring lasting joy. Only then are we prompted to “come let us adore him.”
I know it sounds sacrilegious, but I’m wondering if we should simply accept that Christmas is what it has become—a secular tradition. It’s a holiday to “Deck the Halls,” to celebrate love, and a time to be altruistic. Yet it certainly is not a season of worship. There’s no margin or quiet or energy to welcome the King of Kings. There’s nothing wrong with buying each other gifts, having a party, visiting family, or even enjoying eggnog. These activities only become a problem when we try to convince ourselves they are somehow tied to a very sacred event that has changed all of history.
Instead of trying to compete with the noise and the consumerism, should we pick another day, personally or corporately, to get Christmas right? After all, many of the traditions we think are rooted in religion have nothing to do with Jesus . . . the tree, the gifts, and even the date.
What would it look like if you picked December 29 or January 14 to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ? How would you design your own Christmas to truly be all about him? Rather than trying to squeeze him in among the tinsel and Swedish meatballs, how could we create a season in which he is all?
I know my Christmas ponderings won’t change the customs and that the church is unlikely to create a new kind of Christmas. But it just might prompt a new tradition in the Slattery home. I love Jesus too much to give him such a watered-down celebration and call it “worship.” I want to give him more, and I desire more of him. He is Emmanuel, Christ with us! Not simply sleeping silently in a manger during the party, but redeeming my life with power, majesty, and truth.