Culture, Faith, Life

Back to the Basics of Christmas

The Christmas season comes and goes in a flurry of gift wrap and sugar cookies. Some of us hardly stop moving between Thanksgiving and December 25th; the beauty of the season lost in all of the busyness. I can’t help remembering Christmas as a child, before all the errands and list making. What a magical season it was, filled with joy, and peace, and rest.

But as an adult, things get more complicated. Christmas does not always feel quite how it used to. Many of us have “to do” lists coming out of our ears and just as many expectations as to how this season should be. Many of us have lost loves ones and the holiday brings with it an ache that doubles us over. Some of us have broken relationships that we’ve pushed to the background, only to remember the pain amidst the twinkling lights and family traditions. Some of us struggle with mental illnesses that threaten our ability to maintain the joy that seems to be all around us. Christmas can be so very difficult to navigate.

Every year I am choosing to make Christmas a little bit smaller. All around me Christmas is becoming bigger and bigger. More sales, more gifts, more parties, and more traditions that must be kept. I find myself wondering about the kind of Christmas Jesus would choose. On his very first Christmas he chose a humble manger, no big parties or crowds. Throughout his life, every day, he chose to live in the background; he chose a simple life, filled with love.

If I say that Christmas is about Jesus, and that I am celebrating his birth, then my celebration should be filled with the things that I know he stood for, right? And I am most definitely not saying that I am throwing out all the cookies, and the gifts, and the ugly Christmas sweaters. But what I am saying, is that those things are separate celebrations from the celebration of my King’s birth. I want to be intentional in the truth that I celebrate both a cultural Christmas, which is fun and meaningful and beautiful, and also a Christmas that celebrates only Jesus.

So how do we do that? I believe that the first step, is to realize that there are two different Christmas celebrations. Most likely they will weave in and out of each other. But we are not giving gifts because the wise men brought gifts to Jesus, and we are not getting new pajamas every year to signify Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes. These things are separate, and that is okay. So where does Jesus fit into Christmas? It’s more than a Christmas Eve Service, and a manger scene in the living room; more than advent candles, and hymns by the choir. Christmas is a season for the broken, and in truth we all are in some way.

Christmas is the reminder that Jesus came to save us and to know us, and that He loves us more than we can imagine. The bible tells us that He was born in a humble manger because there was no room available. We see throughout His life He kept company with those scorned by society: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers. Then ultimately, He gave his life for us on the cross, suffering greatly. I am no biblical scholar, or theologian. I haven’t studied the ins and outs of Jesus’ life. But I have met with Him. He has come to me in the most unlikely of places, bringing peace, joy, and rest. His voice has soothed my aching heart many times over. I cry out to Him in anger when life becomes too hard, and sob at His feet in my sadness. He does not sit on a throne of judgment, demanding that tasks be completed and standards be met. He comes and sits with us, holds our hands, walks with us.

Christmas is that simple. It is about His presence in our lives regardless of the joy or the pain. His love for us is immeasurable, and even though we often forget, He is always with us. What joy! In a world full of pain and suffering, when our own brokenness consumes us, He is steadfast. We will never be alone.

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And Heaven and nature sing,

And Heaven and nature sing.

And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

– Isaac Watts

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