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December 7, 2015

Rethinking Christmas (Part 2)

Dr. John Neufeld

It is quite customary for both Christians and non-Christians to agree that Christmas has become too commercial. But most of us are aware that the retail economy of Canada depends on a robust December. When Canadians are feeling positive about the economy and their future, they spend a lot at Christmas. And this fuels the economy even further, creating more jobs.

And so, in spite of the fact that we might not like it, we have developed an economy that needs a materialistic Christmas. Everything from Black Friday to Boxing Day sales encourage all to get out and buy more.

In the meantime, several positive things need to be said about the way Canada celebrates Christmas.

First, because we live in the northern hemisphere, this time of year is dark and cold, with trees barren and lifeless. Christmas lights, pageants and celebrations provide an ambiance, bringing joy at a time of year that otherwise would be lacking it.

Second, the emphasis on family and friends, “get-togethers” and parties do reinforce the importance of relationships and friendships that few other times provide. This is why, in spite of what people don’t like, Christmas remains very popular.

But we have a problem.

Christmas celebrations often include excess. For instance, alcohol sales and consumption rise at Christmas. Myths about magical elves and reindeer, the promotion of materialism – these are profound enemies of the gospel that find a central place at this time of the year. And sometimes, our own Christmas pageants, grand affairs intended to attract the non-Christian crowd, do no more than feed a consumerist mindset. These extravaganzas are just one more offering being made available for purchase during the season.

And so, I think we may come to a time, when thinking Christians leaders must be called upon to create a uniquely Christian approach to Christmas. We need alternative traditions, widely adopted by the greater Christian community, that offer a “uniquely Christian Christmas.”

Let me suggest a number of possibilities:

1) Rethinking our Christmas pageants and transforming them into in-depth celebrations of the mystery of the incarnation. We must think of ways to be profoundly joyful and celebratory while we enter deeply into the meaning and mystery of God entering into human flesh. Just like what Handel did in his day in his masterpiece ‘Messiah,’ we need to put together musicals or even dramas that are “weighted,” not “light weight.” We need deeply theological celebrations that invite the non-Christian to think about the meaning of incarnation, and not just pray the “sinners prayer” afterwards.

2) Just as important as transformed pageants are the need to make acts of charity central to this time of the year. Because God so loved us that He gave, local churches should find ways in which giving becomes a public expression at this time of the year. Perhaps this becomes the time of the year when we sign up for a mission, or when a major project that has potential to transform lives gets “front row attention.”

3) There must be a sense of direction when it comes to gift buying as part of Christmas celebrations. How can our gifts be used to a) glorify God, b) highlight the gospel and c) show concern and love for the recipient? Perhaps local churches set up a gift buying fair each year that provides direction and helps people make their giving profoundly Christian.

4) What about transforming our dinners, gatherings and parties? Perhaps we need to provide training in order to do this. This might look like every Christmas family celebration including someone who has nowhere to go. It might also include how to make worship of the God who comes to us as man an integral part of every celebration.

These are just some of my thoughts. But what has inspired them is my troubled heart. We need to develop a deeply Christian celebration of Christmas that provides a legitimate witness to the world around us.

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