Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Celebrating Christmas the Correct Way

Are you ready for it to begin? We now have 22 more days of being reminded not to forget the true meaning of Christmas.  We will be exposed to ads, sales, gift wrapping stations. We'll hear radio stations make a big deal about playing Christmas songs all day every day; and they'll ignore the fact that there are only about 20 unique songs arranged in 14,000 different ways each.

We are going to hear about how Christmas is a time of giving and charity; and 1,000 charities will simultaneously try to capitalize on that sentiment and suck our wallets dry.  We are about to be bombarded with Santa Clauses.  And then exhorted to recall that Santa Claus is not Christmas.

Perhaps this year we'll be exposed to hours of commentary about how we shouldn't "take Christ out of Christmas" (by using X-mas).  We're almost certain to hear the tired old complaints about corporate "Happy Holidays" from those who think that the American consumer machine should conform to the cultural traditions of Christianity alone.

We're due for a lot of distractions about what Christmas is or ought to be.  And we'll be due for still more distractions to remind us that those are just distractions.

So let me jump into the middle of this and tell you how to properly celebrate Christmas.

To explain the proper way to celebrate Christmas, let's go back to the first Christmas celebrations.  And I do believe I am correct to use the plural.  The first celebration was shared between newlyweds--for the first time in months, they were free from the stares and gossips about the young brides pregnant appearance.  It would soon be followed by labor and delivery.  Despite knowing the miraculous circumstances of this pregnancy, Mary and Joseph would face their own fears and anxieties about this moment: child birth was the leading cause of death among women.  Joseph would pace outside the stable after the women who came to assist chased him away.  Other men in Bethlehem would offer comfort, advice, and celebrations to the new father.  And relief would replace anxiety when those first cries were heard.

On that night--so precious to us, and so unremarkable to most in Bethlehem--a village would celebrate with strangers the birth of a child.  And for the first time in recent memory, Mary and Joseph would feel that they were a welcome part of a community.

Perhaps that seems like a rather unremarkable celebration. It was unremarkable.  Very little occurred that night that anyone would have cause to remember in future years.

Elsewhere, a party like no other in millenia was taking place.  While Mary lay in a stable, exhausted and flushed following childbirth; while Joseph looked on, confused and overwhelmed with the bustle of women who had come to Mary's aid; while an underestimated child was being admired and cradled in loving arms, it was the men with sheep who would witness the first Christmas celebration.

"I bring you good tidings of great joy," the angel said1.  And a choir of his friends put on an impressive, celebratory chorus.  "unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord2."  And after awe-inspiring jubilation--I can't imagine anyone parties quite like the angels--the shepherds came together.  "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this child.3" And this next part is really important.

They made haste4.

There was urgency.  There was excitement.  There was emotion.  There was curiosity.  And I imagine that there was unsurety of what this all added up to.  But mostly, there was a deep sense that something special had just happened, and they wanted to be a part of it.  And when they arrived, there he was--Wonderful, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace5.

I doubt that anyone really understood what that meant.  But they didn't need to understand.  That was a night full of feeling.  A night of emotion.  A night of expression.  And so the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, and telling the story to anyone who would listen6.

In contrast, Mary--already physically and emotionally spent--quietly "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."

The first Christmas celebration, you see, was rife with fanfare and chaos; joy and worry; peace and labor (literally!); humility and extravagance.  It was a moment planned from the foundations of the world and riddled with improvisation.

With no knowledge of what the future would hold for this little child, those involved in the celebration were exposed to the full range of human emotion.  It was spectacular!

So the next time you hear someone say that Christmas isn't about presents, or wrapping paper, or bells, or snowflakes, or Santas, or hot chocolate, or sales, or cookies, or ugly sweaters, or ... or ... or ...  The next time someone starts talking about remembering the "true meaning of Christmas," I invite you to ignore them.  Because Christmas is about all of those things (especially hot chocolate).  Christmas is a celebration of the joy of redemption.  It's a celebration of the human condition and the fact that we can rise above it.  It's a period of extravagance and humility.

So, celebrate it.  Do those things that bring you joy (and ignore the things that don't).  Because nothing is going to inspire you to live up to the true meaning of Christmas more than feeling the joy that Christ brings.  Party like shepherds and angels, then reflect on these things like Mary, and let the joy flow.

1 Luke 2:10
2 Luke 2:11
3 Luke 2:15
4 Luke 2:16
5 Isaiah 9:6
6 Luke 2:17, 20

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