Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas

by John D Ramsey

Christmas comes early this year in our home. Cara and Daniel will be home on Friday; Dad will be coming down, too. Saturday morning we will celebrate a traditional Christmas. On Saturday evening, Lisa’s extended family will arrive for a soup supper and a white elephant gift exchange. According to family rules, Gabby is too young to play the game, so she will play with me. We shopped for our gift on Saturday night. We are keeping it a secret even from Lisa. We are hoping that it will be a popular item. Ultimately, whoever goes home with it should be pleased.

I have not always enjoyed the Christmas holiday. I remember years when I considered Christmas celebrations something to endure or ignore. I wondered what exactly Christmas celebrated. Were we celebrating Christ, or were we celebrating material prosperity? I thought, how could we reconcile the extravagance of the holiday with the humility of the manger?

I do not ask those questions anymore. This year, I am hyped about Christmas. Lisa and I hosted a Christmas party again this year. We invited more people than last year, and my only regret is that we did not invite even more. I am already looking forward to next year. I hope our annual Christmas party continues to grow in scope and renown.

Obviously my attitudes have changed. In retrospect, I think I can trace my change of heart. First, Santa Claus is noticeably absent from our house. Though Lisa decorates the house extensively, Santa Claus is  (almost) nowhere. Some might justify including Santa Claus in Christmas because the tradition of Christmas has evolved over the years. Others refuse to celebrate Christmas because of the supposed origins of the holiday.

I do not debate the origins of Christmas. As a family, we celebrated the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Sukkoth this year. Acknowledging the nativity in association with the Feast of Booths does not invalidate Christmas as a Christian holiday. Rather, if Sukkoth corresponds to the birth of Christ, then the Christmas season corresponds to the annunciation of Mary. Whether the day commemorates the birth or the announcement of the birth, the day celebrates Jesus Christ. In our family, we can celebrate the season of the incarnation of the Son of God twice each year, in September or October according to the lunar calendar and in December according to Christian tradition.

The celebration of Jesus’ birth leaves no room for Santa Claus. Santa Claus mythology secularizes Christmas. There is not room for two stories of Christmas. God spoke to Isaiah, saying, “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” Isaiah 42:8 (KJV) Why disparage fact with fiction? Lisa and I have never pretended with the kids that Santa is real. I believe that adults who deliberately lie to young children sacrifice their moral authority in the process. “No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.”A child's willingness to believe should not be abused by untruth.

Over the years, I have become first comfortable and now enthusiastic about the extravagance of Christmas. Just as the Old Testament Feast of Booths and the celebration of the tithe resulted in an economic blessing to the nation of Israel, so acknowledging the birth of Jesus Christ is an economic boon the nations that celebrate it. The misdirection of secular mythology cannot exceed the marvel of God becoming a man through the miracle of virgin birth. Those who celebrate Christmas acknowledge that Jesus Christ has changed the world even if he has not yet changed their hearts. The extravagance of Christmas displays the power of Jesus' nativity to captivate the hope of mankind.

Although the manger represents the humility of Christ, salvation through the blood of Christ is the most extravagant gift in history. I cannot justify a stingy celebration God’s amazing extravagance. Friends told Lisa today that our Christmas open house was the most extravagant Christmas party they had ever attended. Lisa did not know quite how to respond to the compliment. I am certain that parties that are more extravagant occur. Yet, if we are celebrating the advent of God’s spectacular grace, we should celebrate it appropriately to the best of our ability.

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