Thursday, December 20, 2012

What's the Point of Christmas, Really?

There is no point to Christmas if it’s noted only for its propensity to be a “holiday” in the sense of banks being closed, alcohol flowing, fatty food in abundance, free time, themed décor and materialism in the form of pricey or just exceptionally useless gifts.

There’s no point in any of it except for perhaps a chance to socialize or get a new iPad. And many people, if it weren’t for Christmas, would either wait for a birthday or a raise to go buy the iPad. So Christmas is reduced to a list that is “over” when all is checked off: visited the family, got the iPad, took a vacation from work, got some shopping done, caught up with correspondence, updated the family photo and tested out some new dip and cookie recipes. There may be a point if it’s about family photos and staying in touch with people from the past (but I hear Facebook is accomplishing this on a daily basis, so....)

Is there another purpose to Christmas? What about charity? Yes, the charity in December would most likely not happen if there were no such thing as Christmas. Intriguingly, what is it about the established “holiday” of Christmas that leads people to give? Many would attribute it to movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol” and the poem “The Night Before Christmas.” The feel-good prospect of giving is hard to resist. 

Thankfully, the United States is notorious for giving: to disaster relief, humane societies, and children’s aid organizations. And if that were the only point of Christmas--to take us into our pockets and unload some of our abundance to others—who would complain or find fault? But, like purchasing a new car, how long does that feel-goodness last (for the giver and the receiver both)? And how much do we need to broadcast or make a show of our giving in order for it to truly “feel good?” And when the ham dinner we donated is consumed by the receiver, are we still interested, say, in March? Or are we one-hit wonders? It’s better than nothing, sure, but therein lay a revelation. There is something about Christmas that gets us to do what we normally might not.

What is the motivation? Some of us are highly sentimental, like I used to be before becoming a Christian. I could be manipulated by emotional appeals. Not to mention the aspect of assuaging my guilt. But I also wanted the accolades of having given. I once donated “anonymously” and then told a bunch of people what I’d done. True, the organization didn’t know it was me, but others did, and they found out through me, the “anonymous” donor! Is part of our reason for giving or serving so that we can talk it up? I believe God desires us to get to the point where, whether we give anonymously or not, the point of Christmas--along with our Christian life--isn't about what we give or how we serve but what Jesus gives to us and through us to others. 

The point of Christmas is no different than the point of any other day. And that is, that when God is truly the One on the throne in the service He does through us, we have the privilege to experience the joy and awe of Him working through our person. We learn to trust in and delegate Him moment by moment to be our discernment, wisdom and service.

That is why Jesus came. His arrival in the manger is the hook on which this whole holiday frenzy called Christmas hangs. But Jesus is the one on whom each day hangs. 

He came to free us from ourselves, yet reconcile us to ourselves and others by reconciling us first to God. He came to make things right: our motivation, service, wisdom, discernment…our hearts. He came because, as someone explained in a children’s program I heard yesterday, we are out in Lake Michigan drowning in the pride of ourselves and we need a savior to rescue us. That is how God reconciles the world. By giving us the gift of the Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord, to knock God’s sense into us and bring us into His peace, joy and motivation, even in the emptiest and darkest of times. And on a daily basis--December 25 being just one of them.

If the tree lights just aren’t doing it for you this year; if the mint brownies don’t taste the same because Grandma is no longer around to bake them; if you have plans to go shopping for yourself during the January sales because you know whatever is under the tree will not satisfy; if all your giving of gifts leaves you hollow; and if alcohol only makes everything worse, then perhaps it’s time to find a quiet place and ask God to show you, personally, the point of Jesus Christ Himself.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:27-31

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” 1 Corinthians 2:12

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