The Complications of Christmas

I love Christmas.  There, I said it.  I love it all, from the Griswolds to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to Frosty, the Snowman.  Christmas brings back so many warm, fuzzy memories from my childhood: tacky lights, big, family gatherings, the Chipmunks Christmas cassette that I forbade my parents to remove from the van, and Christmas Eve viewings of White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life.  Then there’s Santa; oh dear, wonderful bringer-of-all-the-best-gifts, Santa Claus.  Christmas as a kid was so much fun, and I still consider it to be the most wonderful time of year for me.

Photo by Don O'Brien

In middle school, however, I became a Christian, and I began to notice tension between my traditional, American celebration of Christmas and what Christians said Christmas should be.  I heard people say things like, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and  “Keep Christ in Christmas.”  The problem was, no one ever really showed me what that meant.  No one in the Bible ever celebrated Christmas, so how was I supposed to celebrate it?  What does Jesus have to do with all these trees and stockings and a fat, trespassing saint?  How should one keep Christ in Christmas when he doesn’t even really seem to belong there?  

Most of my Christian friends had kind intentions.  However, all they really seemed to be doing was celebrating the same materialistic holiday as the rest of the country but then giving Jesus a tip of the hat by insisting that everyone say, “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”  Even reading the Nativity story on Christmas morning seemed trite to me.  It was very hard for me to reconcile the fun holiday of my childhood and the forced religiosity I saw in the church, and it led to some pretty strong cynicism on my part.

Enter Andrew Peterson.  I discovered his music in college and was immediately captivated.  He is a masterful storyteller whose songs draw you close and shine the light of the Gospel without pretense.  Being the sappy, lover-of-Christmas-music that I am, I was thrilled to find out that Andrew had just released a Christmas album, so I picked it up.  And it changed my life.

Andrew’s Behold the Lamb of God isn’t your typical sleigh-bell-ringing, up-on-the-rooftop variety Christmas album.  It is a narrative song cycle that begins with Moses’s conversations with Pharoah and walks through Scripture from the Passover to the Cross, pointing to Christ all the while.  This record revealed to me, for the first time, that the entire narrative of Scripture was one, long story, and that story was all about Jesus.  For years I had missed it, but it was all there.  Just read Matthew’s often-overlooked genealogy of Jesus (or listen to Andrew Peterson sing it).  It’s the prologue of a tale that began before the world was made, culminated in the incarnation of Jesus, our Emmanuel, continues into the twenty-first century, and will last long after Christ returns to make all things right.  

Behold the Lamb of God reshaped my understanding of the Gospel and consequently, my family’s celebration of Christmas.  Several years back, we began celebrating the entire season of Advent through daily Scripture readings that trace the story of our sin and our Savior through the Old Testament and into the Gospels.  Our children make ornaments which illustrate each Scripture reading, and we hang them on a our Advent tree (which is just a kid-sized, pre-lit tree we found on sale).  My wife discovered a couple of helpful guides for celebrating Advent with children (The Truth and the Tinsel and How to Celebrate Advent with a Jesse Tree), and we also use the Jesus Storybook Bible (which is a treasure in itself).  John Piper also has a great Advent guide called Good News of Great Joy.  Celebrating Advent has become a beautiful reminder to us of the entirety of the Gospel.  It has helped us balance the celebration of Christ’s incarnation with the jingling bells and wrapping paper.

                                                                                                            Photo by   Matthias Ripp

                                                                                                            Photo by Matthias Ripp

The bottom line is this: if Christ has saved us, then our entire life should be a celebration of of his redemptive work, an act of grateful worship (Romans 12:1-2).  If this isn’t true of our everyday life, then it won’t be true of our Christmas celebration.  So, treasure Christ above all, all year long.  Study and meditate on Scripture, spend time in prayer, and be in community with other believers in a local church.  Allow the Holy Spirit to preside over every aspect of your life, and every part of your life will become an act of worship.  When Christmas comes, it will be fun and special, but it will be more significant because it will be a natural extension of the worship that takes place in your life year-round.

Now, if I could only find my Chipmunks Christmas cassette...