Celebrating Christian Christmas: What does it mean?
I know, I know. Last Thursday marked American Thanksgiving, followed by Black Friday, which is also in this country followed by over a month of shopping frenzy, followed by another week of Boxing Day blowout sales! Along the way, we will attend office parties, church extravaganzas, watch Christmas movies and worry that we didn’t get everyone what they wanted or needed. We will fight for space at parking lots and stand in long lines at various stores. Some of us will wander aimlessly through malls in a state of panic on December 24. We will need to buy a tree, string lights around our homes and decorate things so that it “feels” like Christmas. Some of us might not have family or friends around at Christmas, and so we might already be struggling about loneliness at this time of year. Others will be overeating, bracing ourselves for the need to diet later. And some of us will max out our credit cards. But all of that is, in the western world, has become a part of our “traditional Christmas.”
Well, good news! I am not going to rain on anyone’s parade, discussing how all of this has become a part of a pagan celebration. There is nothing pagan about buying presents for loved ones or, for that matter, bringing a decorated tree into the house and enjoying festivities. There is a lot to be said for moderation and avoiding excess. And so, restraint is called for. But apart from that, enjoy this season!
We live in a post-Christian society
I am aware that we live in a secular, post-Christian society. And as such, the society in which we live has retained some of the shells of our Christian heritage, while stripping it of its contents. And that, to the most part, is what Christmas has become in Canada today.
But having acknowledged the reality should not leave Christians in despair, cursing the darkness without lighting candles. In my estimation, the situation is not a lost cause. There are so many ways in which we can redeem the present moment. Let me suggest two important things that all Christians can do at Christmas.
First, in terms of local churches, Christmas presents us with a powerful opportunity to reach out. Whether it be local productions, or events specifically designed towards feeding the poor and reaching out to those in need, Christmas opens doors for the church that are unlike any other time of the year. I have heard of local churches surveying their neighbourhood allowing single moms and other disadvantaged families to receive gifts to give to their families. Often a note from scripture, or an explanation of the love of God in Christ Jesus and the good news of the gospel often accompany such “gift packages.” However it is done, no other time is more open to the work of evangelism.
Second, because last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, Christians do well to build a sense of waiting and longing into their Christmas experience. Advent, which lasts for the four Sundays prior to Christmas, is an old Christian tradition built into the Christmas season.
What is the purpose of Advent?
The purpose of these four Sundays is to remember the longing for Christ’s coming that marked God’s people before the first Christmas. Certain carols are especially rich with this theme, in including, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Indeed, as Christians reflect on the hope of the Old Testament, Christians do well to embrace that same spirit of longing as we look forward to the second Advent. Reflecting on violence, injustice and turning away from God should cause us to cry out, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Traditionally, Christians have enjoyed periods of fasting during this time. How different fasting sounds to the over-eating that often attends this time of the year.
In short, look for ways to make Christ the center of your celebration. Don’t allow your celebration to be an empty shell, but fill that shell with the joy of the incarnation.