Saturday, December 08, 2007

Celebrating Christmas God's Way

Celebration of Christmas at the Miller house has begun this year. I may only have begun buying presents (there’s 17 shopping days left, after all) but we bought our tree last Saturday. It still lacks any lights or decorations, but it is up. Christmas has begun.

The celebration of Christmas in America has taken such a strange turn. I remember my grandmother speaking wistfully of the Christmas of her youth, when her only gifts were a peppermint stick and perhaps a hand-carved wooden toy her father made. But she remembered the celebration of Christmas as a time of wonder and joy – without credit cards or online bargains.

Now, its a whole new Christmas Day. Our culture has disregarded the birth of Christ and elevated the jolly old guy in the red suit to the status of a god. We have turned Christmas from the worship of the baby in the manger to the worship of Mammon, god of money, spending thousands of dollars in homage to the power of materialism and greed. Christmas is a bacchanalia divorced from the meaning it once had.

Throughout the month of December, as the big day approaches and as my schedule allows, I would like to reflect a little on the celebration of Christmas. My contention is that we have failed to understand the true meaning of Christmas and have not celebrated it in a way that honors God. I want to explore the theological underpinnings of Christmas – not so much what was going on in Bethlehem, but what was going on in the mind and heart of God. When we understand that, we will see more clearly how to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Three Levels of Christmas

I love Christmas trees. It is my favorite part of the secular celebration of Christmas. We get a Douglas or Frasier Fir tree every year (fake trees are for artificial people). I add light strands until it blows a relay station and knocks out power to at least 4 city blocks. Then, we hang some ornaments.

I believe my tree is a great illustration of the three levels of how we celebrate Christmas.

The Ornament Level

The ornaments hang on the outside of the tree. They give it pizzazz. Many Americans never get beyond the Ornament Level in their celebration of Christmas. The ornament level involves trees and presents and eggnog and mistletoe – the fun, light side of Christmas. The Jolly Old Guy is an ornament, as are Rudolph and Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and…

Christians are divided over how much of the Ornament Level of Christmas that we should celebrate. I enjoy the celebration of Christmas, but some Christians are offended by the secular side of things. Follow your own conscience on this one.

The key is that you have to have something on which to hang the ornaments. Ornaments are only beautiful if they are hanging on the tree.

The Tree Level

The Tree Level is the structure on which the celebration hangs; the story of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. This is the historical foundation of the celebration of Christmas. Whatever kind of ornaments you like and however much of the Ornament Level you celebrate, it is crucial that we hang the ornaments on the tree.

We need to be careful to focus on Joseph and Mary and the Baby (the biblical story, not the multitudinous myths that surround that story), the shepherds and angels and wise men. They remind us that God sent His Son into this sin-kissed world to demonstrate His love. It is a powerful story.

I love the stories of Ebenezer Scrooge, of George Bailey, and of little Ralphie Parker and his Red Ryder air rifle. But there is no story more powerful than the story of Jesus Christ invading this world of darkness to shine the light of God’s love and we need to keep this story front and center during our celebration. It is the tree which supports the entire celebration of Christmas.

But there is a problem with my Christmas tree. We are just decorating it now, but in a month it will be a brown, lifeless stick, rotting in a pile somewhere. That cannot be all there is to Christmas.

The Root Level

My tree has a simple problem. It has been cut from its roots, and therefore it cannot last long. Why can’t the celebration of Christmas last into January and February? Because we have cut it from its roots. We need to explore the roots of Christmas and reattach the celebration of the season with the deep truths of God’s sovereign purposes.

The Root Level of Christmas is the theological truth and purposes behind what happened in Bethlehem. At this level, we are not so concerned with what Joseph or Mary is doing, but what God is doing.

When we understand the activity of God, the meaning of Christmas comes alive and we come to understand how to celebrate it rightly.

Here is my challenge to you over the next couple of weeks. Let’s explore the Roots of Christmas and as we do, I will tell you something very important. I will show you what God wants for Christmas – what gifts you can give Him that will honor the Father and the Savior He sent.

1 comment:

Todd Bacon said...

Great stuff to hear your thoughts.