Local News: A new women’s Bible study is scheduled to kick off at Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church beginning on Thursday, January 17. The 13-week study will go through Rick Phillips’ book, Encounters With Jesus. For more information about this book club, call the Christian Education office at 601-973-9115. Ladies who are interested may also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not every Christian “likes” Christmas. While some eagerly anticipate months in advance Christmas movie marathons on the cable channels and hearing classic Christmas songs on the radio, for some all of the festivities are boring at best and downright annoying at worst. Baking Christmas cookies, wrapping gifts, shopping, playing in the snow–some of these activities just simply aren’t any “fun” for some people. For people not naturally inclinecd to like Christmas, are they cut off from the privilege of joining the church’s celebration of Christ’s Nativity? Far from it. In fact, they may be able to more deeply enter the celebration of Christ’s birth than those–this examiner very much included–who thrive on the “sentimental” side of Christmas.
1. How not “liking” Christmas could help a person keep his or her focus
For those who “keep” Christmas in the commercial sense of the word, all of the festivities can be distracting from the religious side of Christmas–commemorating Christ’s birth. Our minds can be so occupied with mistle toe, decking the halls, building snowmen, hanging up lights, etc… that we don’t think much of the baby in the manger. There’s nothing at all wrong with the festive side of Christmas, but there’s also nothing uniquely religious about it either, so if you happen to not enjoy all of the festivities, it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. You may even be more suited to hone in what’s really important about Christmas, without getting sidetracked by what’s not. Consider, for example, the following quotation from C.S. Lewis, taken from a December 26, 1946 letter to Dorothy Sayers:
“I get to you at last, escaped from Christmas week: a period which (though I hope my spiritual man rejoices) my carnal man regards as the most disagreeable of the whole fifty-two.”
In other writings, Lewis explained his annoyance a the commercialization of Christmas, especially the custom of sending cards to people you barely knew, simply because they’d sent you one first. In regarding Christmas as such a disagreeable time, Lewis was not being a “Scrooge”, though it might be easy to draw that conclusion. One remembers that in Dickens’ novel, the unreformed Scrooge didn’t just object to the commercialization of Christmas; he objected to the season altogether as a waste of time. Lewis, in his comment to Sayers though, shows that his “spiritual man” took a certain delight in commemorating Christ’s birth. It was simply the “other” side of Christmas that he denounced.
2. Distinguishing between Christmas the commercial season and Christmas the holy season
In 20th century England, what Lewis called an “infidel society”, he saw no point in people sending Christmas cards to each other, especially when the cards usually contained pictures of “stage-coaches, fairies, foxes, dogs, butterflies, kittens, flowers, etc.”–things that had no real connection to the Nativity at all. In an earlier letter, written on Christmas Eve 1939 to his brother, Lewis brought up the “great absurdity of celebrating the nativity at all if you don’t believe in the incarnation.” To illustrate the point, he described what the situtation would be like for someone observing it from the outside for the first time:
“The parallel would be if you had visited a Chinese [man] and found him at a table covered with small pictures, and, on asking what he [was doing], received the reply, ‘Well, personally I very much question whether tomorrow is the anniversary of Buddha’s being protected by the dragons, or even whether it ever happened. But I’m keeping up the old custom. No, there aren’t any pictures of Buddha or of the dragons here. I don’t care for that sort of goody-goody business. But here’s one of a traction engine for Hu Flung Dung, and I’m sending this study of a napkin-ring to Lo Hung Pit, and these jolly ones of blue bottles are for the children.'”
What’s the point? We mustn’t flatter ourselves as being spiritually mature if strolls through winter wonderlands evoke nostalgic pleasure in us. That sort of thing simply says more about our temprament than it does our spiritual state. In an increasingly secular society, we shouldn’t be surprised if Christmas, as it’s observed in the culture, becomes increasingly divorced from the original religious festival. Ironically, that increasing disparity could help re-awaken Christians to recapture what Christmas should be all about. Next to God becoming a man, cards of stage-coaches and winter landscapes look pretty dull, don’t they?
All Christians regard the birth of Christ as a momentous occasion, the night when God was born as a Man into our world. That is the “good news” announced by the angels, the glad tidings that are for all people. If every Christmas recording ever made by Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald fell into oblivion, if It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol had never been produced, the good news announced in Bethlehem would still remain intact. Holiday pleasures are not available to all; not everyone can afford Christmas dinners and not everyone lives in a climate to ever see a “white” Christmas. But the message, “Unto you is born this night a Savior” is for everyone. As Martin Luther pointed out, the angels didn’t just tell the shephers a Savior had been born; the angels personalized it: a Savior is born “for you”. While not everyone can get in the “Christmas spirit”, all Christians can be filled with the Spirit of Christmas through what Christ has done. That’s the good news of Christmas.