I was getting my car serviced during the week and I overheard a couple of the staff chatting at the coffee machine.
One said to the other – “so, are you ready for the silly-season”. You’ve probably heard similar references to Christmas including those such as – I can’t wait for Christmas to be over – or, I really hate Christmas.
Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year – in fact it’s supposed to make us happy all through the year. Christmas can be a time that doesn’t cause celebration for some. It might be a time of grief for those who have lost a loved one. It might be a time of sadness for those who are alone and don’t have anyone to celebrate with. It might be a time of sadness because you don’t have the money to buy presents for your family. Perhaps we have made Christmas something that not everyone can celebrate because of expectations that each year we have to spend more than we did last year. Or we get a card from someone unexpectedly and we feel obligated to add them to our ever growing list of people we have to send cards to.
When we think of the very first Christmas it was nothing like that; In fact it was very meagre with no room at the inn requiring Jesus to be born in a barn, in a feeding trough for the animals. Christmas should be a time of rejoicing for everyone as Paul says in our 2nd reading: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;
But has Christmas become something that doesn’t give people reason to rejoice and give thanks? You might wonder – what do I have to give thanks for? That’s when we need to peel back all the layers we have put onto Christmas and get back to the basics of the message. John the Baptist had the same concerns. He had to strip back all the people’s expectations and bring Jesus Christ to the front: The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” He confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” They had all these layers and John put it in the simplest form: He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
The world has put all these layers on Christmas – buying presents, sending cards, Christmas feasts, Christmas holidays. And please don’t get me wrong – I’m not against those – in fact I really enjoy them. But it is often those trimmings, as we call them, that causes people to stop rejoicing at Christmas time. Even some of the traditional layers cause much debate in and outside of the church causing confusion and doubt;
The challenge as to Jesus’ birth and whether it was really on December 25th which was originally a pagan festival date. It was in the 4th century when this date was declared to be the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth. The inclusion of the wise men in the nativity. Santa Claus becoming the symbol of Christmas for many families including Christian families And this is on top of the debates of whether we should be saying happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas so we don’t offend. Christmas has seemingly become something it was never meant to be.
As we debate these and other things we can actually lose the true message of Christmas which is found, not in the traditional Christmas texts but in a text that we don’t often hear at Christmas or associate with Christmas:
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive eternal life. That’s the Christmas message we should be making a straight path for.
Sometimes I too feel overwhelmed by everything that goes with Christmas; the extra sermons; the expectations of the Christmas Eve service, all the trimmings that you soon hear about if they’re not quite right or different to what we usually have. And sometimes I too can’t wait for Boxing Day. And that’s when I need to remind myself and other people about John’s message about himself: He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
Are our Christmas ways testifying to the light or to ourselves. Sometime we have pointed people to the wrong light. Sometimes our Christmas traditions become an end in themselves and we are not hating Christmas but we are hating what we have made Christmas to become.
Christmas is the most beautiful time in the church as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ who is the full expression of God’s love for us; For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son. It is a time to rejoice – it is a time to give thanks as Paul urges us: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.