Christmas can be a confusing season. The most commercial of holidays is also supposed to be one of the most sacred of days.
Moreover, the expression of the sacredness of the day is constantly opposed by those who don’t believe in sacredness at all. And what is for many the most joyful of times for others fuels deep depression and loneliness.
The Christmas season is confusing because it is not simply one kind of season. It has at least three manifestations; a maze, a myth, and a message.
The Christmas Maze
This is the hustle and bustle of the social and economic pressures surrounding Christmas. Every family that celebrates the day knows the Christmas maze well.
Moreover, this maze is the greatest concern of those for whom Christmas is not a religious day. In their case, it is an opportunity for family, gifts, and parties.
It is an opening to vacations and seeing loved ones. A time to be jolly and jocular by popular promotion.
If one is in the retail business, Christmas is a time of both terror and treasure. Many moons ago, I was an employee of a department store for about three years and can attest to that fact.
In fact, there may be only one place where the pressure of the Christmas maze is more pronounced than in the retail business world. That is in the church world.
Everyone involved in a church which calls itself Christian knows this pressure. From the pastor to the choir to board members in churches large and small, Christmas always loads the calendar.
Thus, the maze is a twisting path of plans for trips and decorations, purchasing presents, and supplies for endless social events. Once December 26 arrives, those who limit Christmas to the maze feel mostly relief that it is over.
One of the societal myths is that Christmas is only the maze. Another is that Christmas is all about Santa Claus and magic.
Here I must confess that I enjoy both Santa Claus and magic. I like them especially at Christmas as fictional representatives of a greater truth.
However, there are those who make that myth their ‘truth’ about Christmas. That is not necessarily detrimental as much as deficient.
For there is a transcendent truth behind Santa and Christmas magic. A truth higher than simply the spirit of giving and magical characters.
These themselves are arguably good things for the world. It is attractive to believe that somehow Christmas promises to restore a childlike sense of innocent optimism to adults, if but for a brief time.
However, these can be harmful as well. If Santa becomes like a god and magic is an excuse for effort, the effects on society can be debilitating.
Which brings us to the timing of Christmas. The date, December 25, is enshrined on the calendar as one of the religious Christmas myths.
The Religious Myths
The 25th of December is religiously celebrated as the birthday of Christ. In fact, that is not a fact.
The only historical sources of Christ’s birth come from the Bible. There is no date given there.
No one knows the real birthday of Jesus! No date is given in the Bible, so why do we celebrate it on the 25th December? The early Christians certainly had many arguments as to when it should be celebrated! Also, the birth of Jesus probably didn’t happen in the year 1 but slightly earlier, somewhere between 2 BCE/BC and 7 BCE/BC, possibly in 4 BCE/BC…
Another mythical Christmas scene is the traditional display of the Nativity. The inclusion of the ‘three wise men’ in the display is not accurate.
Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2. saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” …2:9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. [ESV]
No manger and no infant await the wise men. They went to a “house” and saw a “child.”
It is likely that Jesus was about two years old at the time. After the visit of the wise men, the king sends out soldiers to kill all male children two and under.
Matthew 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. [ESV]
The wise men had told Herod they saw the star two years before. The star appeared to them when Jesus was born.
As Christmas rapidly approaches it becomes easy to get caught up in the maze and myths of the season. So easy that one can miss the magnificence of the Christmas message.
The Magnificent Christmas Message
This is the best way to understand and experience Christmas. Focus on the message.
The message is magnificent and it comes from our magnificent LORD. It the message that God became one of us, literally to walk in our shoes and live as part of His own creation.
It is the message that God gave humanity a gift, the most precious gift of all. He gave Himself as the Messiah, the son of God.
Christmas is not about gift-giving or receiving among us. There is nothing wrong with that practice unless it consumes you.
It is about remembering the gift God gave to all, though none are worthy of it. Moreover, it is about remembering why God gave such a precious gift.
Remembering the love that it took to leave heaven and become a helpless child within the womb of the virgin. To live and grow and ultimately die for us.
Don’t let the maze and myths of the time allow the message to pass by unheeded. Take a look at how Charlie Brown was in danger of missing the message in this classic clip.
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Featured and Top image courtesy of José Manuel Armengod’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Andreas Komodromos’ Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Kevin Dooley’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of A. Currell’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 4 courtesy of Lenabem-Anna J.’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
All other sources linked or cited in the text