I was recently asked by a young woman, new to following Jesus, “How should Christians celebrate Christmas?” It is an interesting question to try and answer. There are a number of ways that Christians choose to celebrate Christmas, but sentimentality, nostalgia, and tradition usually serve as the reasoning behind them. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with tradition. Aside from the relapse of consumerism and materialism that most American Christians suffer about this time of year, I really don’t think there is anything wrong with trimming the tree, opening presents, candle light services, or any of our other usual Christmas practices - but do those things actually answer the question? That is what we do, but is it what we should do? Should Christmas consist of things that need to be accompanied by the defensive statement, “There is nothing wrong with…”? And shouldn’t our Christmas be somehow different than the Christmas of those who don’t even believe in the Jesus? If all our Christmas time traditions have no particular sacred quality are they sufficient?
Most of us will get together with extended family. That especially seems to be the quintessential Christmas practice. Who would argue with the statement, “Christmas is a time for families to be together”? But is that what it means to celebrate Christmas? Is that “what Christmas is all about?” It isn’t.
Christmas is essentially remembering. Like all birthdays, it is best celebrated with the actual person who was born on that day. Jesus cannot be an accessory to our celebrations, He must be their essence. Remembering is an internal discipline. It can be communal but it must first be personal, internal. Christmas then is really celebrated on the inside. It is celebration of the heart and a realization or remembrance of the stunning event that has forever changed us and the world. The sacred moments in the midst of all our buying and gathering, is when we find ourselves staring off into space, fixed on that inscrutable distance, remembering the impossible chasm that God, in Jesus, crossed to find us. That God, who is transcendent, invisible, and holy, became one of us. And he did it to show us how to be human, and to save us. Joy should be a part of Christmas, but not because of presents, food or family but because we realize that God came for us. While we were impossibly lost, alone and confused, Jesus entered our world, came looking for us and led us out. We have not actually celebrated Christmas until our hearts have exalted in worship.
Wherever, however, and whenever that happens, you can know that you have celebrated Christmas as all Christians should. It will most likely need to happen in a private moment on your front porch, or in the quiet of your bedroom before the sun comes up on Christmas morning. It will not need music or preaching, presents or family. It will happen because we let our minds lead our hearts to the day He came, and all that came to us because He did. It will happen because we find time to be with Jesus, who was not only born but also rose and who lives forever. Spending time with Him is how we celebrate Christmas.
Everything else is extra, possibly even a distraction.