Yesterday, when I was shopping for that perfect gift, which I never found, I almost tripped over a small, curly-topped child. His eyes were wide with the spectacle of all the Christmas possibilities in rows of colorful boxes. So entranced was he that our bump barely phased him as he continued his exploration. Being a parent, my immediate concern was where is your mother or father? I was scanning the isle for him/her when the matching curly-topped head of a woman popped out at the end of a row of boxes and called him back to her. I think I was more relieved than the little boy, since I know the potential dangers of a lost child in a busy store. But I also understand the allure of all the glistening lights and beautiful decorations and, of course, the gifts.
Christmas is a commercial holiday. We all know that. I love all the celebrating, the music, the sparkle, the food, the happy anticipation of presents. As a Christian, it’s my guilty pleasure. However, being a Christian doesn’t mean I should forego what has become society’s way of observing Christmas. I just need to recognize it for what it is.
What most people associate with Christmas is our cultural festivities, an outward expression of celebrating. We don’t need to demonize it and resent it for what it has become. After all, the fact is that if it weren’t for all the hoopla, Christmas would be easily skipped by casual Christians. It’s all the excitement that draws us in. The candle-light services and Christmas carols seem almost magical. For many, this is the only time they attend church, the only time all year they draw closer to God. We can’t change that. We can’t make people want more. We can only serve as examples of what’s possible in a spiritual relationship with God.
At the same time, we must be careful not to judge or compare. We don’t know people’s inner stories, their intentions, or their souls. But Jesus does. It’s his job, not ours. There’s always someone out there who appears to be less spiritual than us and others whose level of spirituality is humbling. By making comparisons, we are creating a separation, the distance between what we perceive as their spirituality and our own; them vs us. Instead of judging, let’s celebrate with non-practicing Christians, accepting them for where they are in their spiritual journey, not who we want them to be.
The outward and cultural stuff is the way we celebrate with others. It brings us together. The inward celebration of the Great Beginning is what it’s really about. Joy, hope, peace and love are all inward celebrations. Those are the original gifts of Christmas. The anticipation of the day Christianity began is the true spirit of the season. Song and prayer are expressions of the emotional impact of that spirit.
We need to recognize the truth of both the cultural and spiritual celebrations. Both serve a purpose. Recognize that the outward celebration is what brings us together as people. The inward celebration is what brings us closer to God.
We spend money, lots of money, on gifts to others. Why? To make them happy, of course, and yes, to fill an obligation. Let’s wrap that gift in joy. Smile. Laugh. Be in a great mood. Make someone glad they know you, glad you’re there.
Let’s also give to ourselves. Indulging in the cultivation of inward joy, peace, and hope is self-love. It’s also God’s gift to us. Let’s be gracious recipients and revel in these gifts of the season. Give generously to yourself. Allow yourself the luxury of giving yourself the precious gift of time: time to feel the joy, the peace, the love, and the hope in the anticipation of a new life, the life of Jesus Christ.
Like the curly-topped child who was called back to safety by his mother, let’s follow the voice of our Father, calling us away from all the exciting glitz of Christmas and take a moment to retreat into the arms of the Lord. Enjoy this time of year, both inwardly and outwardly. Eat Christmas cookies. Sing Christmas carols and really listen to the words.
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining; it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared…
and the soul felt its worth.
Feel the worth of your soul and know the worth of others. Celebrate Christmas in every way you can. We wish you a merry Christmas!
Mary Morton is a member of Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.