“Time to deck the halls!”
It’s that time of year again, and these slogans are everywhere. Stores put out banners enticing viewers to buy their goods, and the shoppers sigh and wonder what gifts they will receive as they wait in mile-long lines. A dad snaps at his daughter and returns to anxiously surveying the tangle of lights lying all over the living room. A family tries to make time for church in their busy holiday schedule—but does it even matter?
The culture that surrounds us has stolen Christmas and made it its own. At this point, it seems like Christmas is just another opportunity to express greed and focus on outward appearances. Everyone feels that twinge of envy when their friends get nicer presents than they did or when they drive past their neighbors’ house and discover that the lights look a lot nicer on the other side of the fence. When did a holiday that is traditionally a celebration of the birth of our Savior become something so secular?
For one thing, materialistic gift-giving runs rampant. This year, the average American shopper plans to spend $983 on Christmas gifts. So much money towards the age-old pursuit of happiness. But few ever stop to think about where the tradition of gift-giving came from. The Wise Men of Matthew 2 present gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus when they arrive from the East to worship him. Even deeper than this, however, is the knowledge that Jesus himself is a gift to the sinful world from God the Father (John 3:16). Jesus gave up his place as God so that he could come to the world and redeem his people. Gift-giving among people stems from the fact that Jesus was a gift himself, and he received three gifts from the Wise Men.
Then there’s the tradition of hanging lights on trees, on houses, at the mall, in the park, and everywhere else. This has, perhaps, an even more Biblical origin than gift-giving. When Jesus was born, God hung, as it were, a spotlight over the stable where he lay: a star, a light in the heavens to show that this was where his Son was. Now people can argue all they want over what that “star” really was, but far more important is this: There was a star. A star given from God. Lights are hung on homes in remembrance of God’s light, the star over Bethlehem. (Additionally, Jesus calls himself the Light of the World in John 8:12.)
So it is seen that two of the traditions of Christmas stem directly from the Bible. But why does Christmas matter? Why does any of this matter? Is it not just another chance to see family, get that warm and fuzzy feeling, and maybe get that awesome shirt you’ve been hoping for all year?
None of these things are inherently bad. But there is so much more to Christmas. If all that matters are the gifts, warm, fuzzy feelings, and family time, there’s no deeper meaning to Christmas. It means the same thing to everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike. So what is the purpose of celebrating Christ’s birth when instead December 25th could be a generic winter holiday?
This is the call to Christians this year: Remember why this holiday exists. Jesus had no obligation to come down to Earth. He could have stayed in Heaven forever. But instead, he chose to shed his glory and submit to his Father’s will and to take the form of a baby. He was born into a dark world crawling with sin—sin that he would, in only a few short years, take onto himself so that his people would not be subjected to God’s wrath. He became a baby—a baby who cried when he was thrust out into the world, who needed milk for nourishment.
Yet somehow this baby who could not hold his own head up still supported the world on his shoulders.
The King of Heaven became a baby. And that is why Christmas is so vital for the Christian.