When the Roman church officially launched the first Christmas in the fourth century it must’ve been a great relief and a time of celebration, thanks to Constantine freeing up Christians from years of persecution. But through the following centuries Christmas was met with mixed reviews.
It was banned several times, by Cromwell in England and by the Plymouth Pilgrims in America in the 1600’s, and attempts are being made today to remove Christmas in both name and ritual. But it’s also noticeable that any time Christmas was threatened it resulted in serious protest. Through history, then, Christmas has been “lovely for some; for others a pain.”
And it still is. On the lovely side it’s been a valiant attempt at self-giving love, which is at the heart of who God is. It tries to create a little light in the darkness, bring families together, and for many people it’s the highlight of the year. They love buying gifts, love decorating the house inside and out, love seeing the children’s eyes gleam as they unwrap presents, love cooking up a storm, love the buzz of a house full of friends and relatives, and love the warm fuzzy feelings that Christmas creates.
But for others it’s a weighty burden of obligation. We must buy presents. We must wow the children. We must make Santa Claus magical. We must make the Christmas meal a work of art. We must have a large fir tree in the living room. We must send cards, hoping we don’t miss anyone essential, and we must do all these things even if we can’t afford them.
For some that’s no pressure at all, “it comes with the territory,” but for others with large, dispersed and mixed-up families, it can be a nightmare of planning, risking all sorts of offence if some in the family feel cheated of the Christmas they had imagined. Gifts are a nightmare too: Who should you buy gifts for? And what do you give to someone who has everything? But anyone daring to say, “I’ve had enough of this malarkey, it’s driving me nuts,” is in for some serious, fire-breathing virtue-signalling.
It’s interesting, then, that Jesus doesn’t require anything from us to celebrate his birth. He never did. Christmas is our dream child, not his. Paul writes in Acts 17:25, that “he isn’t served by human hands as if he needed anything, because he gives to all men life and breath and everything else.”
We’ve got all we need from him – joy, peace and love, whether we celebrate Christmas, or not. Which is good news for those who think Christmas should be buried under ten feet of concrete, and good news for those who look to Jesus at Christmas for his joy, peace and love, and he comes through in spades.