Christmastime is the time of year when almost the whole world becomes a lot more Christian, yet many Christians have the tendency to become far more gnostic. We are celebrating God becoming a man and entering the story at the bleakest point, providing the decisive turning point in mankind’s sad history.
We are celebrating the reuniting of earth and heaven, which was lost in Eden, and many Christians have bought into the talking points that Christmas traditions are all derived from paganism, and instead we should observe the greatest plot twist in history (God taking on flesh) by being wet blankets on any form of material celebration. It frowns on presents as wasteful consumerism; Christmas trees as a druidic practice; feasting as overindulgent; Saint Nick as replacing Jesus; December 25 as an ancient compromise with paganism.
All these fussers’ arguments reduce to missing the whole point of the incarnation: God came to take back the world. Eden’s catastrophe meant the earth was under the jurisdiction of the Prince of this world, Satan. But in Christ’s advent, God was declaring that that ancient war was coming to a head, by sending His own son to take on flesh (actual material cells). Heaven was to be married once more to earth, in Christ, and in Christ alone.
We as Christians are all too eager to rush in and provide a scolding tone to “keep it down in there” as this celebratory time of year rolls around, and suddenly the whole world, it seems, sets aside a month to be generous materially, and think of others, spend time with family, sing songs of Christ’s triumph (like Joy to the World), and be forced to reckon with the fact that the Son of God’s birthday is on the calendar.
Rather than seeing this all simply as a good start, we Christians end up sounding all too gnostic; in essence, we make it seem like giving stuff is bad, and we shouldn’t make such a fuss about just another day on the calendar. Their solution is instead to think pious thoughts, about pious GMO-free food, while surrounded by immaterial pious gifts of good thoughts towards others. It is the thought that counts, right?
God gave us a child, which was then placed in a physical feeding trough, and wrapped in physical swaddling clothes. In essence, in the beginning, God made this world good, declared it to be so, and when it fell, He set about His redemptive work to save it from the death which man brought upon it. In the incarnation, we have the Son of God coming to save not just mankind, but the earth itself (see. Rom. 8:21-23); to make this world into the sanctuary temple, where every creature fills the earth with His praise and glorifies God.
When people frown upon Christmas trees, I remind them that God is the one that made the trees, not the druids. When they sneer that December 25th could not be Christ’s birthday, 2000 years removed from the actual date, it seems to me that those who were hundreds of years closer to the date might actually have valid reasons for assigning December 25th (or late December at the very least) as the time of Christ’s birth. For instance, we know when John the Baptist was likely conceived (Luke 1:5), and then doing the math, Mary conceived 6 months later (at Passover, which is full of significance as well), which would put her giving birth in late December. John Chrysost0m (347-407AD) attested to Christ’s birthday being the 25th1http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Articles/Christmas/christmas.html.
Those who say it simply coincided with pagan winter solstice rituals, miss the point that even the pagans knew a few things, and though they missed the mark, faithful preachers were tasked with pointing out their errors and reassigning meaning to the old practices (think of Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17). For instance, the festival of Sol Invictus, which celebrated the sun conquering the death of winter. Why shouldn’t Christians correct the pagan tradition, by teaching the truth of the winter solstice. If, as I am convinced, Christ was born on or around the winter solstice of the northern hemisphere, don’t you think that God knew the significance of that timing? When Jesus was born, the Sun of Righteousness arose, and light shone into the darkness of gentile paganism. How profound, then, for early Christians to see in the feast of Sol Invictus a worthwhile teaching tool, showing that what the pagans celebrated in ignorance, found its answer in Christ. Perhaps we’d do well to follow their example!
Finally, gift giving does not need to mean mindless consumerism. Just because there’s a ditch on one side that we are so very wise to see, doesn’t mean we are immune to falling into the ditch of gnostic asceticism on the other side. After all, if we are to be generous as imitators of God, how else are we to do that than by giving things. We don’t have the power to create ex nihilo; so it may sound nice to do away with all the shopping, but there is no other way for us humans to give to each other than by giving material gifts.
So, my Christmas admonition is celebrate like Christians. Our older brethren of the faith, actually sometimes placed far more emphasis on the incarnation & advent of Christ, than even upon His death on a cross. They did this because they saw that since man alone could pay Sin’s penalty, in God becoming man, God was declaring He had come to pay that price (which of course was paid at the cross).
Give lavishly. Feast sumptuously. Celebrate fearlessly. For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Don’t be a Grinch or a Scrooge; but don’t be a senseless, blind, pagan, either. We know why we celebrate, and this is the perfect season to practice discipling the earth.
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