Thursday, January 6, 2011

Spirituality - A Response to “A More Pure Celebration of the Gift”

Although most have completed their “Christmas” celebrations, this is such a well-written, thought-out response to Gary’s article, A More Pure Celebration of the Gift that I felt moved to share it with you.

Very early in our marriage, my wife and I moved away from Christmas. We couldn't see anything in it, neither in the way it happens in the larger culture nor within the practice of the church, that reflected the humility of Christ's incarnation.

Christmas, in our view, was a demonstration, built into the rhythm of the year, that we love being a part of a consumer culture and are willing to lend spiritual legitimacy to the spend-and-be-busy mentality by attaching romantic family coziness to it, as well as by co-opting biblical support for it, insisting that we're doing what the wise men did by presenting gifts to the infant King!

There were too many distortions of truth for us to feel comfortable with. How could we participate in an event that nurtures self-centered consumerism in our children ("What do you want for Christmas?")? By contrast, the incarnation of Christ demonstrates, along with many other things, denial of self. Christmas knows nothing of that, as far as we could see.

For our part, we do understand the blessing that people experience, especially in being together as His people, witnessing their children re-enact their version of the Birth story, singing the incarnation and salvation songs and hymns, hearing hope-filled messages about an amazing Savior-Son. If that were the single focus, we would gladly join! We could identify with that -- although we're happier to do that sort of worship any day or time of the year.

What has put us on the outside of those "Christmas" celebrations is the inclusion of so much more in the those gatherings that does not belong to Him. Our reading of Scripture has led us to believe that God does not accept the mixture of Himself with that which is not-God.

For much too long, a customary greeting in the foyer of the church building has been "Well, what did Santa bring you?" or "was Santa good to you this year?" or "Christmas would just be so complete if we could have some snow". For the weeks of "Advent", the sanctuary's central decoration is typically a "Christmas tree", with brightly-wrapped boxes beneath it, and there are "Advent" candles lit each week to build the momentum and drama up until "the big day". People are tired and ragged, many softly muttering, "I'll be glad when this is over" (they’ve shopped right up till midnight!) or "I've put on 10 pounds!" (they've gorged at dozens of banquets, workplace parties, and family eat-fests).

Most people do recognize that all those extras do not have anything to do with "the real Christmas". It's a peculiar thing that there is an acknowledgement, even from the pulpits, that the "real Christmas" has nothing to do with all the hoopla, they nevertheless guard all those traditions with such fervor!

We're saddened that Incarnated God is lost in a cute rendering of idyllic versions of a peaceful birth ("sleep in heavenly peace"?) and in trite and predictable sermons that omit how the Incarnation contains a dramatic challenge to live a radically self-denying and Christ-incarnated life. That message can't be spoken in the midst of a self-gratifying and frivolous event, without trashing what folks regard as the most sacred event on their calendar.

We have truly experienced such joy and freedom as we have gradually, over some years, moved out of the various practices of Christendom, Christmas included, that bring a cloud over the incomparable Christ and that bring confusion around His person and name.

As we seek to glorify our King, it is my prayer that God’s people prayerfully consider His desire for how we can more purely celebrate the birth of his precious Gift, Jesus.


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