I watched with interest yesterday as my neighbor put up his Christmas lights – on November 16, a week and a half before Thanksgiving. As he kept adding more and more to his display, I asked him, “Are you going to charge admission?” He replied, “I hope I can find the rest of my lights!” He just moved in over the summer and hasn’t yet found everything packed away in boxes. I promise to update this post when I see just how big his plans are.
Every year I take time to wonder why Christmas come earlier and earlier. If stores begin stocking shelves a day or two earlier each year, if we decorate our homes a few days earlier, and we begin playing Christmas music a bit earlier each year, it’s only logical to conclue that we will begin celebrating in October before Halloween, nevermind in November before Thanksgiving. And as soon as the first whiff of Christmas comes along, we’re hooked. We can’t resis. We have to do it!
So I have been pondering, “Why?” Why do we do this? Why do we want to do this? Why do we want to get to the celebration of Christmas as soon as we possibly can? Why are we willing to devote a whole 1/6 of the year to this one holiday? I know it is not because of Jesus. We are not that excited about his birthday. There has to be something else.
I do my best thinking when I am out walking the dog, and here’s what came to me. There are actually two Christmases. There is the sacred celebration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. And there is the Ameican secular celebration of Christmas which revolves around shopping, snowmen and reindeers, Santa and the Grinch, food and gifts. The sacred celebration is a day to observe the birth of the Savior. The secular celebration is months of being nice, feeling good, buying gifts and family traditions. These two holidays are not the same. They are very distinct. And I believe we would be a lot happier if we would just admit that simple truth and not try to or worry about combining the two.
During the church season of Advent, I’m always challenged, “Why aren’t we singing Christmas songs?” I answer, “Because it isn’t Christmas.” We will try very hard to wrap the birth of Christ with decorations and gifts and food. But he never seems to fit into that picture. That’s because he’s not about those things. He is the gift.
Let’s just admit that we’ve got two different holidays on our hands. Let’s not play Joy to the World in Home Depot or Best Buy. Let’s not try to find a place for Santa at the manger. Let’s not worry about whether or not we can publicly display a nativity. Let’s not pretend that movies on the Hallmark channel can teach us about the incarnation.
Let’s adorn our homes with trees, lights and wreaths, but let’s adorn our lives with the fruit of the Sprit. Let’s enjoy singing Jingle Bells and Silver Bells, but let’s fill our churches with the words and songs that praise our Lord for coming to save us. Let’s spend our money on gifts to exchange with family and friends as we gather in our homes. But let’s also use some of our wealth to help the least of these on the streets, those who are homeless, hungry and hurting in our communities.
It’s a win-win. You can have as much worldly Christmas as you want. You can begin whenever you desire and celebrate for as long as you want. No judgment.
You can also have all the Christmas God has in mind for you. It’s just a moment in time when the eternal God becomes a mortal man. It is an instant that changes your life forever.
Don’t try to force the two into the same box or blend the two as if they belonged together. We’ve got two Christmases on our hands, and I hope you’ll enjoy both!