Have a theological Christmas
I’m tired of Christmas, and it’s not even here yet.
I’m tired of the buying binges and belligerent advertising. The Halloween candy hasn’t been shifted to the discount aisle, and already Santa is peddling stuff we either can’t afford or don’t need. My son’s paper route included Christmas-specific advertising in late September. It’s no wonder people are Christmased out before Christmas ever arrives.
It seems Christians fall into two camps when it comes to Christmas: those who seek a synthesis of the cultural and religious celebrations (they have the kneeling Santa ornament) and those who seek to reclaim Christmas from the culture (see www.adventconspiracy.org, for example). These camps tend to have a fairly thin line of tinsel between them, and people jump back and forth merrily.
Creative religious synthesis
On one hand, we recognize that Christmas as a Christian celebration was initially a co-opting of a pagan Roman festival. It always has been a religious synthesis, and a creative one at that.
Earlier Christians were reframing their culture through the lens of the Lordship of Christ. Over time, of course, that morphed into various forms of exclusion and embrace, from outright hostile rejection, to the Dickens Christmas Carol wake-up call, to the pastoral snow-covered-field versions, to the overhyped and staggeringly cheap type of holiday “joy” dangled before us today.
Christians have always been baffled by Christmas. We shouldn’t be surprised that once again here we are, trying to figure out what to do with something that is like coffee – both wonderful and horrible all at the same time.
We may seek the happy synthesis and mix some Bing Crosby in with our kneeling Santa after we sing carols at church but end up feeling a little dirty when it’s all said and done. We’ll thank God for the blessings but have some pillow talk about how next year needs to be different, kick ourselves for recycling too many of those charity gift booklets that got lost in the seasonal torrent of mail, and map out a strategy to convince the grandparents to step away from the mall.
On the other hand, we may embrace the healthy reorienting of what Advent Conspiracy calls us to. We’ll find the simplicity of this kingdom-of-God perspective refreshing. Our credit cards will get less worn, or we’ll fill them in order to send hampers to the “needy,” but we’ll still inevitably battle the voices within and without that beckon us in myriad directions.
Embracing the conspiracy doesn’t necessarily change the debate – in fact, it may just make us smug on our new-found moral high ground. Tinsel-free becomes the new Pharisaism that separates the godly from those other people.
What in the name of Christmas are we to do?
I can’t help but find myself in both camps – unable to fully avoid the cultural Christmas, but as a disciple of Jesus, unable to avoid the growing chorus that rightly reorients to the beauty of a different way.
Moving beyond happiness
And this leads to a much deeper consideration as a Christian at Christmas: I have a missional responsibility to engage my culture and a discipleship responsibility to heed the voice of the Lord over all others – but none of this will actually be worth the card it’s written on if I don’t employ my theological responsibility to know who God is.
Ultimately, that is the rub.
The coming of Jesus Christ into this world is not a holiday event but a cosmic one. The incarnation is a theological declaration that redefines every day and helps us know who God is. Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6–7).
It seems to me that in our Christmas camps we’re still just grasping after something for us (either to be “happy” with what we’ve got or “happy” that we’re not like that anymore) when what we really need is to have this same attitude demonstrated by our Lord, where nothing – not even Christmas – is done out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. This, after all, from a theological perspective, is the only thing that made Christmas possible in the first place.
So, lavish a meaningful gift on those you love – and perhaps an enemy. Be generous with your time and resources. But first of all, have a theological Christmas. It may just add meaning to the rest of your year.