It will not be any surprise to most of you that Christmas is coming. There is a wide range of “celebration” of Christmas. I use the quotes because some in the family of God do not celebrate Christmas at all. Some celebrate it with all the trimmings: tree, cards, presents, carols, lights on the house, etc. (Of course, many who are not part of the family of God celebrates Christmas with all the trimmings too. And many do not.)
If you read Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola, you will discover that many Christian practices do not originate in the Bible. Christmas has a similarly “tainted” background. [WARNING: I am not documenting any of the “facts” I will mention. I have heard them, seen them or read them. I cannot attest to their veracity. If you know better, differently or more accurately, there is the comments section.]
- There are various origin theories of the Christmas tree, from Martin Luther to the druids. (Not to mention wreaths, bells and mistletoe.) So, is it an innocent decoration or an non-Christian religious symbol?
- No one knows when Jesus was born. So, the early church picked December 25th to coincide with secular holidays. I have heard of two, one celebrated by the Romans and the other by the early Celts.
- Santa Clause is a caricature of an early Christian, named Nicholas. People’s understanding of him is largely derived from a poem published in 1823. And most television programs around Christmas are animated stories about him and others extrapolated from the poem.
- There is the yearly campaign against materialism. (Not to mention campaigns against public nativity scenes, public decorations, and probably public caroling.) Many Christians react against Christmas as being all about presents. Understandable if all Johnny can talk about is finding an Xbox under the tree. But many stores depend on Christmas for survival. (I have heard that stores receive 20-40% of their business for the year from Christmas. Bad business plans? Too many stores?)
These are just a few of the concerns about celebrating Christmas. In the interest of full disclosure, I and my family do celebrate Christmas in more or less the traditional manner. And, in a year where life seems more complicated and hurried than usual, I would like to share a few things that I have been thinking about.
I presume that since God invented everything else, God invented holidays. It is obvious from the Bible that he instituted several holidays for Israel: Passover, Feast of Booths, First Fruits, etc. So, it seems God thinks that having holidays is a good idea. And although Jesus did not give us yearly holidays, he did institute observances. God seems to think that having occasions of remembering, reflecting and reassessing are good.
God did invent culture. All cultures will be represented in his kingdom. And the contributions of all cultures are good. And if a tradition or observance from a culture can be redeemed to fulfill a holy, faithful and positive influence, then it will add to our understanding of God, our restoration into his image and an aid in furthering his mission.
Materialism and consumerism are not just expressed at Christmas. Because there is an entire industry dedicated to convincing people that they need certain products to be fulfilled, cool, popular, healthy and beautiful, addiction to stuff can happen any day of the week. Commercials bombard us every day: TV, mail, telephone, billboards, and the internet. Only a revolution of hearts and minds will change that.
Holidays are what you make them. Christmas can bring out the worst in people. Or Christmas can be a time of renewing relationship with God, strengthening family bonds, celebrating what is good in life, assessing what is important, how a person can walk in that, and what needs to be changed.