Now that I have your attention, let’s define some terms. What I mean by Christmas is what the broader culture means. Santa and sleighs and office events and shopping and gift giving and receiving. This is almost a universal in the U.S. It really doesn’t matter what, if any, faith anyone possess. I know of Jewish folks who put up Christmas trees. It is a much looked forward to time of year as people wrap up one year and plan for the next. It is certainly much anticipated by businesses as the fourth quarter often looms large.
Yet, the text for this Christmas Day, John 1: 1-14 shows what I take as the importance of this season for the faithful; the celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation, when God becomes man. This marks the start of Jesus’s earthly ministry and the beginning of the march to the Cross and the Resurrection. It is when we focus on this earthly ministry of Jesus and the miracle of His taking on our humanity, living fully into the law (the only human ever to have done so), and in the process teaching us what it is to be fully human. This also celebrates the fact that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus places within us the faith that saves.
I don’t think there needs to be a deep conflict between these two definitions and focal points. There is nothing profane about the cultural celebration of Christmas. Giving and receiving gifts is fine, office cheer is cool and some reflection on the year ending and the new one beginning is healthy. There is even nothing wrong with businesses focusing on the provision of the goods and services associated with this time of year. Remember that cart full of toys is somebody’s job!
There is no conflict, that is, unless you go too far. This is true of most everything. Most things are not profane in themselves. Work is great unless you are a workaholic and destroy relationships. Being prudent with your financial resources is healthy unless you begin to fear and hoard. Competing hard in business is wonderful, unless you begin to cut corners and cheat people. So, it goes with pretty much everything, Christmas included.
It is possible to partake in both celebrations. We do so in many areas of our lives. We can honor and praise God during the day yet find ourselves parsing out some minutiae of our jobs. We can be extending fellowship and faith to our neighbors, yet still care that the Celtics play tonight. We can look forward to church on Sunday and a satisfying Sunday dinner at the same time. We can prepare ourselves for the incarnation of Jesus and be a secret Santa at work. If either are done with a spirit of cheerfulness and piety, they can both be Godly activities.
It is particularly easy, however, to get caught up in the Christmas season and lose sight of the Feast of the Incarnation. If, upon reflection, this is occurring then it is time to wage war upon Christmas. This is a peaceful war, to be sure, waged in our hearts. Nonetheless, this is a war that must be waged successfully if we are to give full witness to our faith. If we are not daily (or more often) reminding ourselves that it is about celebrating God’s gift of His son, if we are not thanking God in prayer, if we spend so much time and effort on the trappings of Christmas that we neglect the Feast of the Incarnation, then it is time to stop and reset. If we are not reminded of Christ while participating in the office gift exchange, then we are lost. If it becomes so extreme that you need to actively withdraw from Christmas, then do so. Better to be thought of as a Scrooge than to neglect the weightier matters of God. If you need to do this and people question you, use it as an opportunity to patiently explain what you believe and why you are so focused. Trust me, while many will not understand, most will respect you for it.
If you can balance both celebrations that is fantastic. If you need to set aside Christmas to focus on the Incarnation, then do so. In either case stop worrying about the pattern of the Starbucks holiday cup or whether clerks say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or that some nabob wants you to be angry on behalf of some political agenda and be of good cheer and celebrate the coming of the One who freely offers us salvation and the faith to make it happen.
Praise Be to God.