Dreaming of a Christian Christmas

It’s that time of year again! A few more weeks and Christmas will be upon us. What does this time of year represent for you? The answer for many, I suspect, is stress! So much to do and so little time to do it in.

There are mounting orders and looming deadlines before the great Aussie shutdown over Christmas and January. There are presents to buy and menus to think through. Then there’s the worry about how we’ll afford it all, let alone the much needed holiday!

You might have heard the story of “Tattoo,” the basset hound from Tacoma, Washington State, who inadvertently was taken for a very fast ride. His owners didn’t realise his leash was caught in the car door when they drove off. Fortunately a policeman saw what was happening and pulled the car over but not before Tattoo had reached speeds of 20-25mph, rolling over several times! That story sounds a bit like the rush and hustle of the Western Christmas season. We can all get dragged along with our leashes caught in the door of commercial hype.

The culture of our world has taken over Christmas and redefined it. We spend more than we can afford buying gifts and goodies that people don’t really need. We consume massive amounts of food and on Boxing Day collapse in a heap, wondering about the point of it all. And in the meantime, the essence of Christian Christmas sails off into the distance. So, what can we do to capture it back?

Maybe Paul’s advice in Romans 12:2 is a good place to start. I like the way The Message paraphrases it: “Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking…” In other words, we Christians are supposed to be non-conformists. We live by different values. What would happen if we applied this principle to the way we teach our people to celebrate Christmas this year? Here’s a bunch of suggestions:

Give gifts that cost little but have meaning
In our frenetic, commercial age we’ve lost the art of real giving. We hurry to choose gifts so we can tick them off the list rather than thinking about the one to whom we are giving. There was a time when Christmas gifts were not purchased in a store and given brand new; rather, they were given from the giver’s possessions. Giving a gift meant giving something away and the recipient knew the sentimental value involved in parting company with the item given. What values do we teach our children regarding gifts and giving? I read once of a mother who wrote to her son’s grandparents, “We want our son to learn the real meaning of Christmas. Please send him only one gift. On his birthday you may indulge him, but on Jesus’ birthday we want him to honour Christ by doing something loving for others.”

Restore broken relationships
For many people, one of the more stressful elements of Christmas celebrations is the forced gathering together of people who don’t get along. They’ve managed to keep their distance during the year but Christmas is going to bring them back together. One of the greatest gifts we can give this Christmas is the gift of forgiveness or the mending of a quarrel. The really good thing about this gift is that it doesn’t cost very much! Among the gifts we give this Christmas, include a few olive branches for those with whom we have a chip on our shoulder.

Invite a stranger to share a meal with you
One of the good things about Christmas is that families get together. One of the sad things about Christmas is that families get together. Christmas can be an excruciatingly painful and lonely day for those without families. Jesus gave us a new model for kingdom living when it comes to celebration feasts:
“…when you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” – Luke 14:12-14.
Maybe one of the biggest gifts we could give this Christmas is the model of Christian love and hospitality toward those who otherwise celebrate the birth of Jesus in loneliness and isolation.

Spend less time in the kitchen and more time with people
I reckon our Christmas celebrations have lost all sense of perspective when it comes to the food we consume. We typically follow a Northern Hemisphere winter menu, which we then ingest on a hot summer day, only to lie around feeling bloated and uncomfortable. The story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10) has something to teach us here. Mary was more fascinated by Jesus and his teaching, whereas Martha was more concerned about preparing food and tidying the house. Celebrating the presence of the Son of God is much less about the quality or quantity of food and what the house looks like. Martha had lost perspective. Why don’t we plan this year to celebrate the day rather than the menu? Perhaps host a simple meal that the whole family can contribute to making. How about a BBQ outdoors rather than a winter’s hot roast? If we typically get stressed out over food at Christmas, let’s make a decision today not to be. Rewrite the menu and give more energy to the reason for the season.

Remember the poor
In the midst of our Christmas giving to all those who will give back to us in return, let’s include gifts for those who will never give back to us. The true spirit of a Christian Christmas is giving. God gave the gift of his Son and we follow his example in giving gifts to our loved ones. But let’s be honest, don’t we sometimes view the gifts we give as a kind of investment? We prune back what we spend on some relatives because of what they gave us last year. Why not this Christmas give like God gives: with no thought of reciprocation. Rather than bless the “already wealthy,” let’s bless the poor. Jesus said in Matthew 25 that when we give to the poor and the needy we are actually giving to God. Maybe a good rule of thumb in our Christmas budgeting this year is to give to God (by giving to the poor) as much as we’ll spend on ourselves.

What are your plans for Christmas this year? Whatever they are, it’s not too late to make this Christmas the most profound ever. All it takes is a bit of thought and planning. Imagine how we might celebrate if Jesus came to stay with us. What would we do differently? According to our theology, Jesus will be with us this Christmas. It’s His birthday after all. The question is will He recognise the party?

“I’m dreaming of a Christian Christmas” by Brian Winslade, National Director for Australian Baptist. prac10