We do Christmas slowly. That is, instead of tearing into presents for a ten minutes rush of adrenaline, we open them one by one and take all morning. We wrap everything, even stocking gifts. If something can be divided into two packages, we do it. Even gum is wrapped.
It happens like this. The question is asked, “Who gets to give the next gift?” Then that perfect gift is found, handed over, and opened as dramatically as possible. Exclamation follows and a huge hug and “Thaaaaaanks; that’s just what I wanted!” In fact, we might play with the gift, or try it on, right there. We’ve seen a half an hour pass before another gift is opened.
You get it, we want it to take some time, to enjoy it, to savor it, not conquer it.
We talk about Christ’s birth around the advent carousel the night before, sometimes following a candlelight service, and always accompanied by (imitation) eggnog (called “egg knocker” when the kids were young). That’s very special to us.
Now this brings up an important point. Should we really do all of this? The Puritans did not think so, and they had some good reasons. For one thing, they found in the holidays a call to Rome and a high, formal Anglicanism that they felt was the deceiver of so many through the ages. They wanted nothing to do with religious traditions and ceremonies passed down by men. I may have stood right with them in their day, especially in England. After all, Christmas is really “Christ Mass.” I understand their concern and applaud them for their courage.
Today Christmas is almost entirely secularized. It is a merchant’s most profitable period as eager shoppers raid their shelves. Can we be any more comfortable with a secular Christmas than the religiously-loaded Christmas the Puritans detested?
Here are some reasons it is okay to celebrate Christmas, complete with gift-giving and “egg knocker”:
First, the day itself is not really the day Christ was born. Nobody actually has the exact day down, but most believe it was not during this time of year at all. Probably it took place in the spring, not on a “cold winter’s night that was so deep.”
Second, diversity over the years has taken away much of the “Romish” flavor to the holiday. Our Catholic friends do as they wish on the night before and the day of Christmas, that is granted. But we do not have a state church. There are so many other ways Christmas is celebrated that no one really thinks about it the way the Puritans did so many years ago. The problem is not so acute because of so many years of varied expressions. At least this is true in our part of the world.
Third, God can be honored in gift-giving and generosity as well as in singing carols and telling the story. They’re both important if done in the right spirit. We don’t have to make something spiritual out of giving gifts. You may make a birthday cake to Jesus if you wish, but you don’t have to. We do need to be Christian, however, about everything we do. Emphasizing the giving part of the day can heal lots of wounds, open calcified hearts, stir up gratefulness, and just be plain fun. God’s not against fun is He?
Fourth, there may be better things to be different about. In other words, we might show our radical difference better in the way we treat other shoppers, the kindness we show to retail clerks, the warmth of our hearts, the largeness of our generosity, the thankfulness we express and really feel.
Fifth, there are admittedly some great opportunities to make Christ known during Christmas. With all that is bad about it, we can still make our point. And we will have some sympathy for our message. For years I’ve led Christmas Eve services, short ones of only 45 minutes, but packed with meaning. The building will be full and all kinds of our friends and family will hear the truth as clearly as we are willing to express it.
What really does bother us is the mixture of the secular with a superficial acknowledgment of Christ’s coming. This is why I separate what I do at Christmas. I find the evening with the family and the church the best way to think on this marvelous incarnation of Christ, without which we have no salvation. It is the most important thinking we can do during this season. But since there is no sin in giving and receiving, we can enjoy that also.
As for superficiality in acknowledging Christ, much harm is done. But that harm is for those who pretend a worship of Christ when they have no heart to follow Him. That’s not where I am. For me and my house, we desire to follow Christ. And as sincerely as we know how, we intend to celebrate Christ’s coming to “save His people from their sins.”
What happens on Christmas day happens in church buildings all across our country every Sunday morning. Most of worship is pretended in the country’s churches, and many show up who care very little about anything but doing a religious duty or being seen by others. But please don’t stop me from worshipping on that day.
As for us, a world of superficiality cannot stop us from worshipping Christ for His coming to earth if we really want to do it. Gloria in Excelsis!