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Christmas is one of my favorite time s of the year. My family was always able to make it a special time when I was a kid, and that has carried over to when I had a wife, kids, and family of my own. Christmas was a time my mom worked hastily in the kitchen making candy and cookies that have helped keep my blood sugar and cholesterol high. It was a special time with our family. We had our traditions, and for the most part they revolved around family.
Christmastime has become even more special now that I have my own family. Mary Beth and I were married a week before Christmas. At first I kind of hated it since there are so many other things going on that time of year, but it has become a special part of our tradition to celebrate in the midst of a celebratory time of year. There are even more opportunities for things for us to do than there would be if we had gotten married during another time of the year. Then, just because that wasn’t enough, Clark’s birthday is January 7, so we kind of start the celebrating a week early, and keep it going a week after New Years. So . . . Christmastime has a special places for the Metzes.
The reality of the religious significance of Christmas has played a pretty minor role in our family until more recently. Nativity scenes were looked upon as way too Catholic for my family growing up, and we regularly heard sermons about how “We celebrate Christ’s birth every day.” That may have been the case, but December 25 seemed to be one day we were definitely NOT going to celebrate Christ’s birth.
As I have grown, I have found an appreciation for the Christian piece of the holiday. Our church has embraced the significance of the celebration by catering our services to the Nativity accounts during Advent, and we have conducted a Christmas Eve service for several years. That, too, has become an important part of our Christmas traditions. Our kids have a nightly ritual of opening a door on an advent house to reveal a piece of the nativity which presents us a chance for a daily reminder of Christ’s birth.
I say all of this to make my point that I am in no way a Christmas scrooge. No matter what your perspective is regarding this holiday, I probably can empathize with you. There are times when I want to scrap the whole thing as irredeemably commercial. There are times when I want to learn from my Catholic friends and integrate the high ecclesiology and reverence that I so often lack. There are times when I am just overwhelmed by gifts and “stuff” and all that and think we should “occupy Christmas.” There are times when I am encouraged and inspired by the generosity and gratitude of others.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is a great time to look in the mirror – Christmas really is a mirror. Our thoughts and emotions during this time of year are indicative of who we really are and where our faith really is. Those who are especially dogmatic about not celebrating Christ this time of year often have so elevated dogmatism and doctrine that they can lose the relational and celebratory side of faith. Those who are especially dogmatic about celebrating Christ this time of year may be guilty of under-appreciating his birth throughout the year and instead attempt to take their “Jesus” pill in a big dose this time of year. Those who speak loudly against commercialism this time of year can fall into the trap of not appreciating a God who gives freely and appreciate the gifts and things we are blessed to have. Those who indulge into the throes of debt and become overwhelmed by shopping malls and their online orders this time of year can equally miss the point of being satisfied in Christ alone. Me personally – I think I fall guilty on each account at some point.
Any missions class begins with the idea of cross-cultural engagement. If you desire to reach a people group/culture, you have to learn their language, learn their customs and traditions, learn how they work, and what makes them tick. You have to learn to love them for who they are and what they do – not as potential “converts.” Did Jesus set out to convert anyone? Seems to me what he offered was “life” (John 10:10 anyone). He offered the kingdom – a new way of living and seeing life now – not some kind of fire insurance for the future. This way of life impacted the way they lived here and now.
Christmas is a time to celebrate. It is a time when our culture chooses to celebrate. I understand it is not this way for everyone – and that is a different topic for a different day. But, whether it’s Hanukkah, Kwanza, winter solstice, most of our culture chooses to celebrate in some way. It seems to me that one of the most detrimental things we could do is sit back with our arms crossed and say, “We can’t do this. This is just too messy. This isn’t biblical.” Or whatever other reason we may offer. Instead of yelling what we’re against, what if we went out of our way to engage the culture, to show why we can celebrate, to show how much fun we can be – an why! Certainly, we can live among this culture as aliens and strangers and find ways to celebrate alongside those in our culture while not imbibing in paganism or hedonism.
We tend to be most critical of the things that are closest to us, and I think that is largely where many of us fall when it comes to talking Christmas. It’s such an easy target. And perhaps, that is where our look into the Christmas mirror can reveal something important to us.
Mary Beth and I were able to spend several days in New York City at Christmastime last year. Having heard about the mystique of the City for years, it was incredible to be able to experience it ourselves, and I feel as though we walked around every day and took in all the “pagan” aspects of the season: from the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center to ice skating in Central Park (OK, we didn’t actually ice skate but we saw other doing it!), and went to Mass at St. Patrick’s cathedral .(not pagan, obviously 😉 . . . and like Paul in Athens, saw alot of yearning and wonderful God-desires manifested in different ways. As citizens of the kingdom, we celebrated our freedom and our life and the grace we have received everywhere we went. We hope that we can continue to do that in whatever way we choose to observe (or not) the Christmas season.