Maybe Christmas was a great idea when it was first invented, but today it’s a monumental muddle.
It’s a strange mix of ancient and modern, like finding Jesus in a nativity scene alongside Santa Claus in a Coca-Cola suit, and a sacred Christian holiday being celebrated in much the same manner as the heathen festival Christians pinched it from originally.
It’s an odd jumble of opposites, too. Giving increases for worthy causes, but so does spending on useless junk. ‘Tis the season for pleasing others, but also the biggest excuse all year for bloating oneself to bursting point. It tickles heart strings while straining purse strings; it keeps the economy growing while burying people in debt, and it catches you humming those familiar songs while wishing the “silly season” was over. And who is it really all about, Jesus or Santa, our kids or the child of God?
The sacred and the secular are so intertwined nowadays it’s a wonder Christians don’t separate themselves from Christmas all together. On the other hand, Christmas still magically transforms entire communities into nicer, kinder, gentler places for a season. It’s an amazing phenomenon seeing people with no interest in God suddenly acting all warm and fuzzy and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about a Christian concoction full of bizarre rituals dragging them out in huge numbers in the middle of winter every year. In a modern culture like ours it’s hard to explain.
Unless, that is, the prophecy in Isaiah 9:7 really did kick in when Jesus was born, because that would certainly explain it. “Of the increase of God’s kingdom and peace there is no end,” the prophecy states, and the thriving of Christmas is remarkable proof of it. Even with the politically correct brigade trying to bury Christmas in meaningless terms like a “festive season of giving,” Christmas as a Christian holiday keeps on happening and it still packs a punch in the peace and goodwill department. It can still melt the anger of hardened criminals, stop the bullets flying between deadly enemies, and for a moment or two it even unites Christians.
Christmas is a powerful influence in our world, and while it remains that way it offers just the hope we need that what began with Jesus is true, that peace really is on its way. It doesn’t seem possible the rest of the year, but at Christmas-time it does, because something happens in December that doesn’t happen at any other time. The atmosphere changes; a truce descends upon the land and we discover the pleasure all over again of giving, chatting with strangers, helping the unfortunate, resolving conflicts, and even going to church.
For a few brief moments every year the elements of peace are in place and we get a glimpse of what’s possible, of a better, kinder world, of God’s world not ours. It’s all still a monumental muddle, yes, but in amongst the muddle there’s a hint of magic, of something else going on that reaches beyond human invention, of God himself reassuring his weary children that peace and goodwill are not only possible, they’re guaranteed.
And without that little taste of magic, where would we be? What hope does our world offer otherwise to a single Mother up to her eyebrows in debt and despair, or to a man who hates his job, hates where he lives, hates what’s happening to his kids, hates getting older and fatter and knows he’s stuck in a rat hole ‘til he dies?
Well, there isn’t any hope, is there, either for them or for millions like them, living out their dull, boring, routine lives without much of anything to look forward to each day but more of the same.
But along comes Christmas again, and with it a ray of hope that this life isn’t all there is, and maybe something wonderful really did begin when Jesus was born. The evidence is there all right, of something incredible happening every year that ties in exactly with what God said would happen with the birth of his Son.
Muddle or magic, call it what you will, Christmas is still an amazing time of year. It’s not only a peek into what’s possible, it’s also a glimpse of another world in the making and of a God who is real and true to his word.