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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Real Meaning of Christmas

Black Friday, the largest shopping day for Christmas - which now begins relatively early on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. Cyber Monday, the online holiday bargain hunt, begins in just a few hours. Calendar counting now shifts from the traditional daily number to a countdown of remaining shopping days.  All of this giving us the indication that the Christmas holiday will soon be upon us.

In addition, the stores I have been in the last few days are playing music related to Christmas, usually warning that I better watch out and better not cry.  

I also know the holiday time has begun because as I drove home from the store this evening, I passed plenty of homes with Christmas decorations shining away.  I have none up yet…my time has been occupied with other more pressing activities.  

One house I passed seemed to have every inch of their yard and porch roof covered with lighted figures of Santa, elves, snowmen, reindeer and similar characters.  Missing were any angels, wise men, shepherds, nativity or religious decorations of any sort, which reminded me of something that recently occurred to me.

Have you ever noticed how many people like to get in on the celebration of Christmas…despite those who protest and get perturbed whenever they hear a Christmas carol or see a nativity scene.  When I was in college, even one of my Jewish friends loved to put up her Christmas tree right alongside her Hannukah menorah.  So the other day I got to thinking about why people, who have no interest in Jesus, have adopted the celebration of Christmas as their own, albeit with a focus not on Jesus, but on St. Nicholas (about whom they also know very little in reality).  I didn’t research it, but I have a theory, and I thought I’d share it as we enter this season of celebration and obsessive compulsive shopping into debt.

 Most of the time, when I do something that I see somebody else doing, it is because I think it looks like fun, or looks interesting, or is something that brings great benefit.  So I wonder if over the years people have seen Christians celebrating Christmas and seen the joy, the sharing, the love that is integral to the meaning of the holiday.  

Maybe sometime way back when, people saw smiling Christians, filled with happiness and overflowing with charity and love, and then decided that was something they would like to have in their lives, too.  Or maybe their children came home one day asking how come little Johnny down the street received special presents last week when his birthday isn't until August, and why they didn't get any presents at all.  Child-driven-hope-I’m-a-good-enough-parent-guilt is a manipulation card children learn how to use early in their lives.

However it occurred, and for whatever reason, it seems likely to me that non-Christian individuals saw something they wanted as they observed Christians celebrating a remembrance of the birth of the Savior.  Perhaps that is how the various trappings began to be added.  The Saint Nicholas turned into Santa Claus who inherited a reindeer with a red nose, snowmen began to sing before they melted away, and toys became the dominant theme because everybody knew that somehow, Christmas has something to do with children.  Thus the celebration spread around the globe and toy manufacturers were very, very happy.

However, it seems to me that what has happened is that people have tried to capture the wonder and joy of Christmas by manufacturing their own, in hopes that they could experience the joy Christians experience with the Incarnation.  

They have adopted the forms, but neglected the substance.  

We Christians aren't filled with joy at this time of year because we get to share in Christmas presents and old familiar songs, rather we celebrate the gift given by God that we could never attain ourselves, and the songs sung by a young virgin named Mary, her relative Elizabeth, and the angels who sang to shepherds.  Pretty lights and trees that remain green don’t remind us of Christmas, they remind us of the Light of the World and the promise of eternal life. 

Oh sure, we Christians get caught up in all the trappings of the celebration, too, and sometimes can forget what the core meaning of Christmas truly is, but for many of us, as we sit in a chapel on Christmas Eve, holding candles, taking communion and singing carols, we are reminded again the it is the gift of the Christ child that makes the holiday truly wondrous. 

I invite you this year to find out in a deep and fresh way what the holiday really means, and why it began to be celebrated, because the joy of Christmas is only truly known by those who also know the Christ of Christmas personally.  

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