Eyes Wide Open – A Cultural Christmas

One of the issues that I struggle with about our “world” (“world” being our immediate cultural context in 21st century suburban America) is the way that the Christmas holiday has become so commercialized.  At times I am repulsed by the way the celebration of the Savior’s birth has become more of a retail bonanza than a time of worship….more of a secular celebration than a spiritual celebration….more about giving gifts to one another than about praising the Giver of the Greatest Gift….more about decorating homes with tinsel and tiny light bulbs than about adorning our lives with the fragrance of Christ. 

However, if I’m honest, there is a part of me that really treasures many of the trappings of Christmas.  I must admit that there is something “warm and fuzzy” about the sounds of carols in the mall, the ring of the Salvation Army collector at Wal-Mart, the Christmas parties, the family get-togethers, and of course…all that good food (Thanksgiving time, revisited).  Perhaps it’s all just a nostalgic trip back into my childhood, but I often find myself enjoying some of the secular aspects of the Christmas celebration.

So, how are we to think about Christmas?  What is a Biblical perspective of Christmas?  How can we celebrate the birth of Christ without falling prey to activities and traditions that are not Christ-exalting?    How “Christian” is Christmas, and on what basis should we even celebrate it?  I’ll seek to answer this more completely in a subsequent post next week.

For now, let’s consider our “receive, redeem, reject filter”….how might that be applied to our celebration of Christmas?

Let’s open this up for discussion!  Much of this is opinion, and should be couched in terms of our liberty as Christians.  If this is unclear, then please refer to my earlier post on Legalism versus License.

1.      What must we “reject” about our culture’s way of celebrating Christmas?

The list here will not be inclusive, but representative:

–         eating and drinking in excess

–         an over emphasis on gift-giving (Jesus says a man’s life does not exist in the abundance of his possessions.  Much of our gift-giving simply promotes materialism which is already such a problem in our society)

–         the attempt to remove “Christ” from Christmas as evidenced by several large corporations and government entities (including our schools)

–         going into debt in order to celebrate Christmas (gifts, decorations, activities, trips, etc.)

2.      What must be “redeemed” by the gospel from culture’s celebration of Christmas?

Gift Giving – Ultimately, the celebration should focus on the Giver of Life and the Giver (the Father) of the Greatest Gift (His Son, Jesus), but the giving and receiving of gifts can point to Him if done in moderation and with great intentionality.  In our home, we begin our unwrapping of gifts by singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, and having a time of prayer, thanking the Lord for the Greatest Gift man has ever known.  Sadly, much of our gift-giving does not align with a commitment to moderation, but instead a commitment to follow the world’s emphasis on gift-giving, which only serves to feed our materialism.  Instead of 25 toys for your toddler, why not just give him one or two that he’ll really enjoy (after all, grandma’s still gonna make up the difference!).

Christmas decorations (Christmas trees, wreaths, lights, etc.) – Much has been written about the supposed pagan origins of these traditions.  Those arguments are not convincing to me.  The bottom line for Susan and I is, “what does the Christmas Tree represent today?”  If there is a widespread predominant belief that having and decorating a Christmas tree is catamount to pagan worship, then we would readily lay aside our Christian liberty to have one; however, that is simply not the case.  Instead, our 21st century American culture sees a great deal of Christian symbolism in Christmas trees.  Why else would our government ban Christmas trees?  http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/11/27/washington-state-implement-rules-barring-holiday-displays-inside-capitol/

Why not take advantage of this symbolism and make use of it in sharing gospel truths with unbelieving friends and family?

Having feasts – Feasts were a normal party of life for Ancient Israel, as well as the early Church.  They were a means of celebrating God’s provision.  Where we go wrong with this is too cross the line into over-eating, a sin that Scripture clearly delineates as gluttony.  We like to joke about it and treat it as a lesser sin, but we can rest assured that the Lord does not consider it so.  It is not only unhealthy for us to binge eat during the holidays (and put on our extra 10 pounds), but it’s also not Christ-honoring.  I’m preaching to myself here friends…..enjoy the turkey, have a slice of pecan pie, but not to the point where I’m clearly over-indulging my flesh.  Convicting?

There are others, but I want to leave room for you to include yours here. 

 And then finally,

3.      What can we “receive” from culture with respect to Christmas celebrations? 

Spending time with family and friends – not that we should need an excuse to fellowship with those around us, but certainly we can receive the tradition of spending time with loved ones during Christmas.

Honestly, I’m racking my brain to come up with more, but I can’t come up with any.  Can you?

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