Every year the Christmas season comes a little earlier. And every year older we get, Christmas sneaks up a little faster. I don’t even want to take my Christmas lights down anymore. What’s the point! I’m just putting them right back up, right?
I have a theory. I don’t think time really goes faster. I think that the busier we get, the faster time seems to move. We fill our brains with memories—good and bad—and the more memories that we fill our heads with, the less we can actually keep track and time seems to slip by.
That doesn’t need to be such a bad thing, actually. If we are filling our lives with truly valuable events and making good memories, then we are likely to have a positive tone about life, even if it does seem to slip by faster and faster.
But, what if our days are full of frustration, failure, want, and loneliness?
Approaching the Christmas season might just exacerbate our feelings. We approach the end of the year, and everyone wants to celebrate. Tis the season to be merry, but sometimes all there is to reflect on is a year of wasted days. The best hope is a blind hope that the next year might truly be a new year.
For many, the sensationalism of the season—the gorging on goodies, the presence of presents, and the fondness of family—is but a fleeting comfort in the reality of day to day life; real life.
The New Year lurks in the shadows with open jaws and we probably won’t resolve to see anything change—nothing seems to change for the good anyway.
Christmas is coming.
At Sonrise Church, we are beginning this Christmas season with a 3-week sermon series I’m calling, Keep Christ in Christmas. It’s kind of a cheesy series title. A lot of preachers have used it for many years. I can see why. We look at the commercialism of Christmas—the buying and selling, the excess, the gluttony—and we can’t see Christ through the mirage of meaningless merriments.
That’s what some people think.
Other people think differently. What’s wrong with celebrating with family and friends? What’s wrong with Christmas decorations? What’s wrong with giving gifts? Isn’t God a gift-giving-god?
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)
I have to confess, there were times when I would have said it were better not to celebrate Christmas, not to decorate, not to give gifts, not to sell out to the man or buy into the commercialism of a pagan society. But, today, I have to say that’s a gross overcompensation from what I believe God wants for us.
God has called us to delight in Him and He has promised that our heart’s desires will be given to us.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, ESV)
God is a god of goodness who created all things good in the beginning (Genesis 1) and who works all things to the good of His people (Romans 8:28). I just can’t look at the Christmas season and believe that God would have us to forsake good and perfect gifts like family, friends, generosity, and the like in exchange for an overly pious cynicism that scoffs at the redemptive qualities of the Christmas season.
So, when I say Keep Christ in Christmas, that’s what I’m talking about: celebrating the redemptive qualities of the Christmas Season.
The English word ‘Christmas’ comes from the root words ‘Christ’ and ‘mass’.¹ Mass is the term used for traditional Roman Catholic worship, and necessarily predates any protestant terminology for Christian worship. “…the mass purports to be a representation of the sacrifice of Christ”.²
The Christ Mass (the Christmas) is a little different, though. This Mass celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the begotten of God who was born as a human into this world to rescue humanity from their sins. It’s a specific celebration of the incarnation (becoming human) described by the Apostle Paul, who taught that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6–7, ESV).
There’s a pretty common belief among Christians that Christmas was a ploy of the early Christian church to redeem a pagan celebration. You can kind of see it. December 25th is, in fact, the date of the Roman festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun,” which was celebrated in ancient times. The thinking goes that when Christianity was legalized in Rome, Christmas was invented by the church to make a transition into Christianity more comfortable for pagan people.
But, modern scholarship seems to suggest otherwise. William J. Tighe, Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, notes that, “the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date [December 25th] in the year 274 was…almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians.” In his article Calculating Christmas, Tighe unpacks the historical evidence that Christians had already been celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on the December 25th equivalent of their ancient calendars long before Emperor Aurelian instituted the Pagan festival.³
So, it doesn’t matter how you slice it. The Christ Mass is an ancient Christian ceremony celebrating one of the most significant events in the history of the world. Further, we celebrate this ceremony with the good and perfect gifts of God—with gift-giving, decorations, feasts, times of worship, and fellowship with family and friends.
So when we say, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” we aren’t saying to abandon the secular model of Christmas. We are actually saying, let Christmas be about Christ like it has always been. Let Christmas be about the giving of good and perfect gifts like the gift of Jesus given to this cursed world. Let Christmas be about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the pinnacle moment in history when the reversal of the curse began and history now points forward to eternal blessedness. Let Christmas be about relationships with friends, family, neighbors. Let Christmas be a joyous time, a time where the desires of your heart are fulfilled through Christ.
²(Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 273.)