The Christmas season seems to be both the happiest and saddest time of year. For some, Christmas provides an occasion for family warmth and togetherness. For others, however, it causes consternation. Some non-Christians see Christmas as an alien rite foisted on them annually, like it or not. Some who are not religious” still like the holiday, but feel acute loneliness because they have no one special with whom to share the festivities.
Many find that the hustle and bustle of shopping, addressing and mailing greeting cards and preparing for special entertaining produces more stress and fatigue than peace or joy. When all is said and done, the frantic shopping, the gift wrapping, the decorating and the partying often produce vague feelings of emptiness. It seems as though something that should have been there, or something that should have happened, is missing—and it is, only it is not something, but someone—Jesus. He must be more disappointed about Christmas than anyone.
Suppose it was your birthday. Your friends got together, put on a big spread, made speeches, and gave one another presents. They said they were doing it all because they loved you so much, but then they did not invite you to your own birthday party. You would feel pretty bad, wouldn’t you? Well, how do you suppose Yeshua (that’s the Jewish way to say Jesus) feels?
That is exactly what many of us do to him when we celebrate Christmas. Even those who say they know Yeshua often get so involved with holiday plans and projects that they fail to honor him as they should.
Those who really do not want anything about Christ in Christmas—the secularists and the merchants—don’t have to pry him out. We are altogether too willing to let him disappear little by little, without much protest. Every year the Christmas sales promotions begin a little earlier. Every year the Christmas music gets a little less religious and a little more secular. Every year we find more greeting cards with Santas, sleighs, bells, reindeer and wishes for a “happy holiday season” and less greeting cards with manger scenes, wise men and Scripture verses that mention the Nativity.
I have not yet had the nerve to do it, but every year I think about writing a form letter to send to those who send me “Christ-less” Christmas cards. The form letter would say something like this:
“Thank you for the sentiment, but your greeting card needed one more thing. It never mentioned the meaning of the day. At Christmas we are supposed to be celebrating an event when God became man in fulfillment of holy prophecy. Next year I’d like to receive another greeting card from you, but do you suppose you could include a good word about Jesus?”
As it is, I am generally so outspoken that I don’t have very many friends, and I’m afraid that I would have even a few less if I followed my cantankerous inclinations. But I really don’t want to be like Scrooge. I am not ready to give in and say, “Bah, humbug” about Christmas. At times, however, I do feel like saying, “Hey, since it’s Jesus’ birthday we say we’re celebrating, do you suppose we could think a little more about him?”
One year I did write to several department store managers. I told them that their Santas, elves, jingle bells and red nosed reindeer were not giving me a “White Christmas” feeling, but a rather bleak Christmas feeling. And furthermore, if they were ashamed to mention Jesus Christ and only wanted to use his birthday as an excuse for boosting sales, they should not bother with Christmas at all. They should call it something else, because they were only confusing my children to whom I was trying to teach the proper scriptural aspect of Christ’s Advent.
Well, my children are adults now, and both of them know and serve the Lord—no thanks to the department store displays, special school vacations and stockings full of candy and toys they received in their earlier years. They became believers in spite of all that stuff.
Now that I have grown-up children, I am starting to do some growing myself, and I am trying to be less cantankerous. I can admit that holly is jolly, trees smell nice, and presents are always welcome, but where in all of this is Jesus? Did he get lost? Then I remember a bumper sticker I once saw. (I have learned some good theology from bumper stickers.) It read, “If you can’t find God, he’s not lost!” The obvious implication was that we are the ones who have wandered away.
Many Christians have so wandered away from the simplicity of the event Christmas is intended to honor that they stand at the brink of the chasm of secularism and disbelief. While belief is sometimes described as taking a leap of faith, disbelief, or lack of faith, does not happen that way. The danger is not that we might leap into the chasm of secularism, but that we might stumble in because we are not paying attention to where we are going. I think of the old homily about dropping a frog into a pot of boiling water. The frog will spring out immediately. But if you place him in a pot of cold water and slowly heat it, the frog will not realize that the water is becoming dangerously hot. He will stay and allow himself to get cooked to death.*
In light of what has happened to Christmas, maybe the Puritans who became the founding fathers of this country were right to “jump out of the water.” They decided not to celebrate Christmas because they did not find it commanded in the Bible. It was not that they did not like Jesus or did not believe in the Incarnation. For the most part they loved Jesus, but they wanted to avoid the kind of merriment that left him out. They felt that such a celebration might actually dishonor and displease God, and they wanted to sidestep that danger.
Is the “temperature of the water rising” while you are unaware of it? Do you love Jesus enough to try to be a guardian of the faith? How about some good old-fashioned indignation to show that the birth of Christ really means something to you? Tell those merchants, “Bah, humbug! I don’t need your secular Santa Claus. The sacred Savior is a lot better. If you want me to buy your merchandise, remind me and those around me to honor Jesus, whose birthday I intend to celebrate.”
Exploiters have spoiled Christmas. They want the “season” without the Reason. They want the carousing without the commitment. What is commonly called “the spirit of the season” is really “the spirit of the world.” Most of the holiday merriment comes from a spirit measured in “proof” rather than the spirit of “the joy of the Lord.” The true spirit of the Advent celebration has nothing to do with the massive merchandising and hedonism that have become an integral part of the holiday scene. These things can only offend the friends of Jesus and confuse would-be believers who need to see the true, unadorned meaning of Immanuel, God with us, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
Stripped down to its simplicity, the biblical account of the birth of Yeshua causes the heart to soar with joy. It expands the imagination, elevates the soul and enhances one’s conscious sense of reality. God’s simple truth is like that. It needs no embellishments, no trumpet blare, no neon signs to verify it. So, celebrate Christmas if you want to, but remember to include the honored Guest. Enter into the Scriptures and into the message of the Spirit. Let your heart echo the song we all proclaim as we cheer one another with the joyful news: “Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King.”
*Editor’s Note: Moishe says, “Don’t try this frog experiment! Every week is Be-Nice-to-Animals-Week, and besides, the frog you boil may he someone’s prince in disguise.”