Another commentary about the “Real Meaning of Christmas” feels harder to swallow than a mouth-full of steel wool. The issue is not new. I was a teenager in the 1970s when I first realized the media was selling me consumer products with stories about saving Christmas from consumerism. And it’s not just me. I have a friend who is dewey-eyed and trembling with anticipation for the Hallmark Channel to release its daily “Busy-business-woman-discovers-the-real-meaning-of-Christmas-and-lands-a-hunky-husband” original movie. Some have adopted a protest posture concerning the Meaning of Christmas. One side defends “tradition” and the other shouts to tear down “unjust institutions”. Therefore, talking about the “Real Meaning of Christmas” in 2019 is not only a tired trope, it seems irrelevant or even offensive.
So, let’s put aside meaning for a moment and look at results. Not economic, environmental or cultural results, but the results of Christmas in you as a person. What does Christmas reveal in you? For me, it has varied wildly over the years. As a child, it mostly revealed anticipation, wonder and joy. As a young man in the depths of addiction, Christmas revealed longing, despair and regret. Christmas did not create these things. It revealed them. Christmas doesn’t make us joyful, it reveals joy. Christmas does not create loneliness it uncovers it.
Realizing this changes a couple of things. For one, it frees us from the threat of internet trolls and Wikipedia historians, giddy at the prospect of deconstructing our “ignorant and superstitious” beliefs about Christmas.
Yes, yes…we know Jesus was not born in December…thank you.
Yes, yes…we know Christmas trees have pagan origins…thank you. When the topic changes from someone else’s beliefs about Christmas to the results of Christmas in ourselves – there are no more arguments about source material, expertise or bias. Each of us is an expert on the subject.
Secondly, we become free of expectations (those of others and our own). Maybe Grandma Pearl is disappointed by the gifts, bratty cousins and the candlelight service…or maybe you are. Most of us develop expectations surrounding Christmas and when they go unmet, there’s turmoil. Another word for expectation is “entitlement”. Many of us feel we’re owed something by Christmas. But when our focus moves from what Christmas owes us to what Christmas reveals in us, we can choose to receive whatever is revealed as a gift. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul makes this potent claim, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Even if Christmas reveals something unpleasant, the promise is that when submitted to a loving God for his purposes, it can be redeemed. Disappointment confronted can be transformed into hope. Fear unveiled can bloom into courage. Loneliness becomes determination, greed becomes faith and apathy, peace.
May the light of Christmas shine brightly in your world this year and reveal the gifts that have already been given.
Dan Hazen is a pastor at Allen Creek Community Church. He is one of our columnists who writes about faith each month.