It is somewhat fashionable, around this time of year, for those in my position to get up on a soapbox and rail against the overblown celebration of Christmas. The season’s tizzy has already begun. It begins a few hours after Halloween when the Santas and the tinsel begin making their appearance, and the great commercial holiday machine begins its groaning toward its (hopefully) most profitable time of the year. And the put-the-Christ-back-in-Christmas crowd also gears up also for its annual struggle. It’s not a crowd to which I necessarily belong.
I am becoming less and less interested in “Christmas criticism,” to be honest. First of all, I happen to like all the lights; the more over-the-top the better. And as for the shopping…well…I do my best to avoid the mall just about every time of year. Besides, how can you get too upset about a day when people give things to each other? And as for church services, I’m not even going to complain about those who only worship on Christmas; given all the folks who never go to church, isn’t it wonderful that some people come to worship at least once or twice a year!
The fact is that most of what we associate with our culture’s celebration Christmas really doesn’t have much to do with Jesus at all and frankly never has. If you want to discover the reason behind most of our cultural Christmas observances, just look out the window. It’s cold and dark out there! People need—deep down—something to lighten up the darkness, a reason to feel good about life at the onset of winter. Much of our cultural ado around Christmas actually has more to do with ancient pagan practices which surrounded the winter solstice. If—in the 4th century—the Emperor Constantine had decreed the celebration of Christ’s birth to be during the summer, we would have found some other reason to string the lights and give gifts and set up trees indoors.
So, if you get the feeling that Christ is obscured this time of year, remember that that’s the way it’s always been. The Savior came, but hardly anyone noticed; a babe born in a barn! The natural inclination for our culture is to make a big show of it, to “deck the hall” and all that jazz, but the God who deigned to become one of us did so in hiddenness and humility. The true light came into the world, but the world did not recognize it. That’s still true today. And yet, somewhere in the middle of all the hubbub of the season, the people of God gather together in the quietness and darkness of the winter gloom and sing “joy to the world, the Lord has come!” That’s not just good news; to most of the world, that’s truly news!
Putting Christ back in Christmas and showing up for church on Christmas Eve is terrific, but far more important are the weeks that follow, when the pine needles are swept up, the lights taken down, and all the new toys piled up with the one ones. It’s in those ordinary moments that Christ really needs to be. In other words, the true light of the world has come; what are we going to do about it? That’s the question which gives impulse and energy to our mission, to invite our world to follow Jesus.
And so I invite you to join with us, in this Advent and Christmas season and beyond, as we journey together in the way of Jesus. The light has come into the world, and the darkness has not overcome it.