So it’s the Christmas season once again. The older I get, the more Christmas annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, I love many aspects of the holiday. I like the “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” part. I like the lights, smells, food, and fun that go with it.
The thing that presses my hot button is the commercialism. For decades now, we’ve been inundated with nonsense about the “True” meaning of Christmas. When I was a kid back in the 1960’s, the line was that the “True” meaning of Christmas was “brotherhood.” Really? Then we got into the 80’s and 90’s where the “True” meaning of Christmas was family. That got to be such a cliché that we’d make jokes: “Christmas; it’s all about the children!” Gag me. The current favorite, with all its deliberate ambiguity, is that the “TRUE” meaning of Christmas is “giving.” That line isn’t on your T.V. because of theologians; it’s there because of credit card companies.
First, let me tell you what most of you already know. Christmas is a bit of a confusing holiday. For some time the early church paid little to no attention to the birthday of Jesus. The church was busy trying to do what Jesus actually told them to do: make disciples as you’re going about living your life, love God and people, assemble together regularly – and do all that “until I come again.”
Now, historically, a couple things happened. The church started losing its Great Commission and Great Commandments focus – that’s bad enough. The other thing was that the society around them was getting more and more corrupt and degenerate. There was a Roman holiday called “Saturnalia” that happened each year in December. Initially, it was a celebration of the god Saturn and included feasting, drinking, and candles. Why? Because it was the cold and dark time of year. What happened is that this holiday got more and more out of control such that it became a threat to public safety – it had already compromised public morality. By the way, instead of greeting each other with “Merry Christmas!” they would greet each other with a hearty “Io, Saturnalia!”
Well here’s where the church stepped in. They recognized the need for people to celebrate the winter time (who doesn’t like a party?) and they had some pretty good evidence that Jesus was born about that time (see other folks research on that). The church did what it has done many times since. It redeemed that holiday and re-shaped it to a time to honor Jesus. And - this is the wild thing - the church was successful! Yay! And that's obvious; after all, not many people greet you with "Io, Saturnalia!" this time of year. Well; or any time of year, for that matter....
Now that’s actually a good thing. But it does call into question those bumper stickers: “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Why? Because, originally, that wasn’t the case. Of course Jesus is the reason for every season. But that’s another topic.
Again, do not get me wrong here. Jesus IS the reason for the season for Christians. But for others; not necessarily. For your average guy coming home drunk from a “Christmas Eve” party; well, as a functioning pagan, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. When people don’t acknowledge Jesus for who he is, they just revert to their pagan roots. It’s nothing more sinister than that.
Here’s the problem: when Christians approach Christmas with exactly the same attitude, motivation, and behaviors as the pagan winter-feast celebrator, then we’ve got no claim to state what the True Meaning of Christmas is.
Here’s my claim: he who does not have Christ in his heart will not find Christmas under the tree.