I don’t know about you, but when it gets this close to Christmas, I often look at the tinsel, the sparkling lights, and the crowded stores and wonder if I should be engaging in all the hype. As followers of Christ, should we be making a stand against the commercialization and gluttony associated with our modern-day Christmas festivities?
An experience several years ago made me consider this question seriously.
Then, I was so engrossed in my book to notice two sets of inquisitive eyes staring at me, deeply concerned. I was at the hospital awaiting test results and not at all expecting to engage in a deep theological conversation.
The book I was reading was by John Piper, with the provocative title Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. The book was not meant to encourage debauchery or sinful thoughts. It was actually a reprint of Piper’s bestseller Desiring God, which highlighted that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.
The two women sitting opposite me opened up about their faith and we chatted extensively on the dangers of pursuing our own desires and neglecting to do what pleases God. Our discussion quickly turned to the celebration of birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. They had an issue with how easily religious holidays lose their original meaning.
While I was able to agree with their reflections on how self-centered and materialistic these holidays can become, one of their main issues with celebrating Christmas was not so much the excessive food and presents, but the object of the celebration.
I soon discovered that the women were from a Christian sect that rejects the immortality of the soul and the Trinity of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While they believed in the authority of the Bible and the saving work of Jesus on the cross, they did not recognize Jesus in the Godhead. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was a special man, but not God incarnate. So they asked me: Why would you celebrate the birth of a man who lived and died over 2000 years ago?
Interestingly, their response helped me see exactly what was so special about Christmas to us as believers. We don’t just celebrate the birth of a mere man, we celebrate the fact that He, like no other man, would live, die a physical death, and eventually conquer death. Isn’t that worth celebrating?
Speaking of celebrating, Jesus Himself participated in Jewish festivals and parties. His first public miracle was at a wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-12). Jesus also visited Matthew’s dinner party, where sinners came to Him and had their lives transformed (Matthew 5:27-32). And in Revelation 19:6-9, we get an image of the great marriage supper of the Lamb, where the entire Kingdom of God is invited to participate in the festivities, joyfully worshipping the Lord forever. If Jesus was able to enjoy celebrations with His friends and family, how much more should we take joy and delight in celebrating the great gift He is to us?
So, should Christians celebrate Christmas? It appears we can, as long as we are pointing to the object of our faith: Christ. I’ve been challenged this Christmas season to take a step back and consider whether I have been treasuring Christ? Am I placing Jesus at the center of my affections? I have had to consider ways that I can actively celebrate Emmanuel—God with us. I need to be sharing my faith and Christmas is an ideal time for starting discussions about why Jesus is the greatest gift we can ever receive.
This year, I have decided to invite friends to join me for the Christmas Eve service at my church. I also plan to use conversations over Christmas dinner to share the great hope and joy I have in Christ. There are also various outreach programs that I can join in to help share the hope we have in the birth of our Savior.
If “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”, then we should be displaying our great joy in the Lord to those around us. We can celebrate Christmas by celebrating Christ.