My Dear Friends,
Most Christians have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. It is not hard to understand why. The noise and nonsense that begin to assault us from late July (a slight exaggeration) herald the advent of our nation’s yearly obeisance to indulgent consumerism. In a world where so many have so little, it seems so wrong that we should gorge ourselves, while Darfur starves. “Let’s abolish Christmas,” is then an understandable response from, I would guess, many thoughtful Christians, including those who see no scriptural warrant for it at all. But, is it not good to give? The fact that many abuse something does not mean that we should abandon it per se. Is there a Christian response to Christmas? Probably not (sorry to disappoint you). Many fine Christians, “keep the feast”, while others reject it as pagan, un-Reformed, and self-indulgent.
For what it is worth, here is what one Christian (me) thinks about Christmas. I like it and I loathe it. I like it because it reminds me of the words of our Saviour, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The gospel is all about God giving, giving his one and only Son, the Son he loved from times eternal, “for us men and for our salvation.” Of course we can give gifts at any time. Of course we can celebrate God’s “indescribable gift” at any time. But, just as we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and give special tokens of love and affection, so, at least it seems to me, Christmas is a timely punctuation in the year encouraging us to make our love for one another tangible (even eatable). Feasting is an important feature of biblical Christianity, in both Testaments. Family gatherings and dinner parties are important because we are social beings, made in the image of THE social being, the Triune, relational God. Our Lord’s presence at the marriage in Cana (John 2) signalled in an unmistakeable way the God-Man’s delight in human pleasure and family gatherings. In our breakneck-speed world, we need every opportunity we have to cement family and church, and Christmas helps us do just that.
So, I like Christmas. However, I have to be honest and tell you that I also loathe Christmas. This is partly my temperament. I don’t enjoy a lot of fuss. However, my loathing (does that seem a very strong word to you?) goes deeper. In the weeks and months leading up to Christmas it seems to me that the nation loses its marbles. There is an outpouring of sentiment that makes me cringe. There is an explosion of self-indulgence that is simply grotesque. Immorality escalates, drunkenness increases, suicides rise, children are neglected and reality is drowned in a sea of trivia and alcohol. This may sound to some as if Mr Scrooge has been resurrected from a literary grave. Perhaps - I will leave you to be the judges. But in your saner moments do you also not look at the jollity, the extravagance and the manic behaviour and wish it were not so?
I love the excitement of getting surprise gifts, especially if I like them (a relative once gave me a canvas holder for a TV zapper and a beer can-yuk!). I love seeing the anticipation and joy in my wife and children’s faces when Christmas morning dawns and surprises fill the air. But, Christmas celebrates the coming into our broken, sin-soiled world of God’s Son. He saw the light of day in a stable outhouse, in a borrowed crib. Glory filled the skies as angels sang God’s praise and Herod massacred the infant boys in his satanic attempt to destroy God’s gift to the world. If we forget these things, we forget what Christmas is all about.
So, what am I saying? Christmas is a fact, whether we like it or not. Make the most of it. Share it with others, especially your family. Remember the poor - Jesus always did. Hold dinner parties and “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” Our Lord Jesus Christ said that (Luke 14:12-14). Like it or loathe it, we can hardly ignore it. Above all may our worship this Christmas season be filled with fresh, captivating wonder as we sing with angels and archangels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
Yours as ever,