Many Christians are increasingly concerned with the state of Christmas in our country. Phrases like “Keep Christ in Christmas!” have become anthems of our Christian community as even the word “Christmas” fades into obscurity, replaced by the more politically correct word “Holiday.”
Yet we must concede that Christmas is not a Biblically mandated holiday and it is not the only holiday that has ever been celebrated during the winter season. It is not even the first holiday to be celebrated during cold winter months! Most of us are aware that Christmas (the celebration of Christ’s birth) was first instituted by the Catholic church on December 25th in an effort to capitalize on the existing pagan celebrations taking place during that time of the year. By doing this they not only ensured that “The Feast of the Nativity,” as it was originally called, would be easily embraced, but that it would soon eclipse pagan worship festivals as Christianity continued to grow. Many puritans (and even like minded Christians to this day) actually rejected the “Christmas” holiday due to its affiliation with such pagan festivals and the influence that those pagan cultures continued to have on the holiday.
It is vital that before we talk about specific ways to cultivate a Christ-centered Christmas we first explore our motivation behind celebrating Christmas at all. For when we have a specified purpose for our celebration we will be less likely to get derailed by our worldly, materialistic tendencies. Let it be our goal to celebrate a Christmas that is distinctly Christian and points others to our great Messiah King.
Motivation 1: For the Glory of God
As Christ’s redeemed people our purpose in every aspect of life is to glorify the Risen Lord. The Westminster Catechism explains that the “chief end of man” is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Indeed our lives are no longer about us, but about our glorious God and what he has done for his creation. Just as we seek to place every other aspect of our lives under his lordship, our traditions, celebrations, and holidays must also be purposefully about proclaiming his glory to our own hearts and to the hearts of the watching world around us. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to bring every decision, every facet of their lives (including what they ate and drank) under Christ’s reign and thus bring glory to him through it. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)
The birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, God becoming man for the purpose of living a holy life and then dying for sinful men in order to secure eternal salvation for them is a historical miracle that deserves celebration! Just as we seek to remember and celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter, we seek to celebrate the miracle of God becoming man so that one day he could die and be resurrected for our eternal good. By celebrating the birth of Christ we seek to worship and glorify God for his infinite goodness.
Motivation 2: To Remember
Indeed this infinitely beautiful truth should be carried within our hearts and lived out in our actions every single day of our lives. Yet, we are weak, frail human beings and we often forget how marvelous this truth really is. And so in bringing glory to the Lord by celebrating Christmas we naturally do ourselves the good of focusing our hearts on this marvelous truth and meditating on its implications for our lives.
In the Old Testament God instituted many feasts and celebrations for the people of Israel to remind them of all that he had done for them. The Passover, for instance, what created to remind the people of the Lord’s having passed over the Israelite’s first born by the blood of the sacrificial lamb. Thus the passover yearly pointed to the coming Messiah who would be their sacrificial lamb and cause their sins to be “passed over.”
God encouraged the Israelites to be careful to remind themselves of his goodness to them, lest they forget. Listen to this passage from Deuteronomy 4:9-10 where Moses warns the Israelites to diligently remember the law the Lord had just given them and the many ways he fought for them on their way to the Promised Land: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” The many traditions and feasts that the Israelites partook in were meant to serve as reminders to them and their children of the Lord’s work in their midst.
In the same way, we as new testament believers, have been given the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. These visual, tangible acts of obedience that we rehearse over and over again are meant to enliven within our souls the reality of spiritual truths, bringing encouragement to our hearts and glory to the Lord himself.
Holidays like Christmas, though not Biblically mandated, can serve a similar purpose in our lives. –That is if we are purposeful in how we celebrate them. A Christmas that is characterized by reindeer, snowmen, and gift giving may bring temporary joy to the heart, but does little to bring lastingspiritual benefit to your family.
Motivation 3: To Teach Our Children
After God had given the Israelites the ten commandments, he warned them to be diligent to not only keep them themselves, but to be faithful to raise their children in the knowledge of the Lord. Take a moment to reread this passage from Deuteronomy:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Christmas provides us with a wonderful opportunity to capture our children’s hearts with a clear understanding of a difficult doctrine to grasp -the incarnation of Christ. This doctrine is essential to our children’s formation of the Gospel. As we set out nativity scenes, as we light advent candles, as we decorate Jesse Trees we visually, and verbally teach and instruct their little hearts and minds the truth of God made man, come to save sinners. As they see us joyfully reaching out to neighbors with gifts of love and as they hear us blissfully sing Christmas hymns they learn that we are marked by the virgin birth, that the baby Jesus transformed our lives because he was not just a cute, and cuddly little baby surrounded by fun animals, but was the King of the Universe who came on a rescue mission to ransom us from our sins. These are the precious truths we have the responsibility to impress on our children, and in the holiday of Christmas we have the opportunity to explore them in a magical way.
Motivation 4: To Witness to the World
The fact that we celebrate Christmas and how we celebrate Christmas can be a tremendous testimony to a watching world. We live in a culture that has long observed a holiday that was created to be a Christian holiday. Even with the tide receding from a Jesus focused Christmas, we have an incredible opportunity to talk about Christ during a season when people are more open to hear about him-after all, many of them are celebrating a holiday which began as a means to celebrate his birth.Many people are curious as to what in the world these Christmas carols they like to sing are all about! Just as the shepherds left Jesus rejoicing and telling others about what had taken place, we too desire to inform a watching world about this miraculous event in history that changed our world and our lives forever.
Because of this opportunity we have to witness to the lost world around us we must consider what our celebrations and traditions preach, so to speak, to those watching. Are we fostering a greedy, commercial, fantastical, frantic holiday within our homes? Or are we encouraging a giving, serving, God-exalting, Christ-centered, joyful atmosphere in our homes through our celebrations?
Does our Christmas look any different from the world’s Christmas? We have so much to celebrate and enjoy in our Lord while the world clamors to find peace in joy itself. Let our homes be brilliant not simply because of the millions of lights that decorate our roof tops, but let them be blindingly illuminated by the light of the Gospel as it spills out onto all that we encounter.
Right about now you are probably thinking, “yes, this is great, but let’s get to the practical stuff, how can I practically make the most of this upcoming Christmas, what traditions can I add to our family’s celebration to encourage Christ-centeredness?
My hope in beginning this series in such a way is to challenge you to rethink your Christmas altogether, not simply tack on some fun, thought provoking traditions, but to evaluate your motivation for the ways you celebrate. Ask yourself these questions:
Why do you do the things you do?
Do your traditions bring glory to the Lord?
Are they beneficial to your spiritual growth, to the spiritual growth of your family, to the world around you?
Are there things you are doing that are actually detrimental rather than beneficial?
Are there things you need to cut out of your celebration altogether?
If an unbeliever were to join you for your Christmas celebration would they know you were celebrating Christ?
Does your Christmas look any different from the world’s around you?
What do your decorations celebrate? Christ or a commercial Christmas?
I would encourage you to step back and evaluate the way you celebrate Christmas and don’t be afraid to depart from the cultural norms around you in an effort to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life. We only get this one life on earth to bring as much glory to the Lord as we can and to spread as much of his love and truth to the world around us. We simply can’t afford to waste an entire holiday season that has tremendous opportunity to glorify the Lord. Think about the Christmas celebrated in your home, with your family, is it characterized by snow men, gingerbread houses, and Santa Claus?-or is it characterized by the wonderful hope of our Messiah King.
We as wives and mothers have the privilege of setting the tone for our holidays, we usually choose the decorations, bake the yummy stuff, and talk to our children throughout the day about what we are celebrating. Let us take these opportunities, this responsibility, seriously and focus our hearts and homes on Christ this Christmas.