Dan De Graff
A Little Grinch-y?
That time of the year has come. What time is that you ask? If you’re listening to a radio at home, in your car, at work, or in a store, you’ll hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” played about 50 times too many. Bing Crosby or a cover version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” gives you the feels if you’re at a distance from family and loved ones. Any live performances, whether in a church or shows with big name artists, usually include “Silent Night”—telling the account of the “virgin Mother” and her child, “Christ the Savior is born…Jesus, Lord at thy birth.” Your inbox or mailbox have been inundated with ongoing Black Friday, Cyber Monday, week-long, season-long sales from any store that you have a credit card, rewards account, or other subscription to. And, of course, Christians will be reminding others, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” and you’re likely to hear, “Keep Christ in Christmas.”
Among the Stumbling Saints writers, we’ve learned we each have different feelings around Christmas and how it’s celebrated and thought of. It’s safe to say we all recognize commercialism and materialism have taken over what many Americans think of when they hear Christmas. I’m someone who loves to buy gifts for others and get gifts, and I’m always up for a good deal. I have fond memories of Christmas gatherings with my immediate family and extended family when I was growing up—the food, the gathering, the exchanging of gifts. This year is my seventh Christmas as a pastor, and I never plan to be with my side or my wife’s side of the family on Christmas Day. We usually celebrate on our own on the day of and then take off to Michigan or Indiana the week following Christmas. I don’t like hearing “Christmas” music until after Thanksgiving (unless it’s Handel’s “Messiah”), but I do like the seasonal celebrations.
Most of what I’ve mentioned so far doesn’t have much to do with what Christmas really is, though. Christmas, literally “Christ’s mass,” marks the birth of Jesus, the Christ or Messiah of God. Shortly after God created humanity, without sin but with the free will to worship and obey Him or to rebel and sin, they chose to sin. When God confronted the serpent, Eve, and Adam, he placed curses on them, but also gave the man and woman hope: “‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’” (Genesis 3:15). This is viewed as the first look at the gospel, the good news (protoevangelium): the hope of a Redeemer who will crush the devil.
We have to understand, though, God wasn’t caught by surprise by our choice to sin. He didn’t have to go scrambling to figure out, “What do I do now?!” No, He knew this would happen, and He had already decided before He even created us who this Redeemer must be, would be, and how He would accomplish salvation. He would provide us with the Son of God, who is fully God and who would be fully man.
Fast forward from creation to about 2,020 years ago, and an angel came to a young Jewish woman, a virgin who was engaged to be married—and the angel told this girl, Mary, “You’re gonna have a baby” (Matthew 1:18, 23, 25; Luke 1:26-38). The angel later visited her fiancé, a man named Joseph, to explain to him that this was real and the work of God (Matthew 1:20). It was not a one-night stand that Mary had hid from him. This couple, whose lives were completely changed out of nowhere, were to name their child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, 25; Luke 1:31).
Whether it was December 25 or another date, while on a trip away from home to fulfill census requirements, Mary had the baby (Luke 2:1-6). Angels announced it to shepherds, who came to worship Him (Luke 2:7-20). Later at some point, wise men came and brought gifts to Jesus. Herod, a ruler, wanted to kill Jesus, having heard He was a king—though he had no idea what kind of king (Matthew 2:1-12).
Christmas is meant to mark and celebrate this arrival of God’s anointed one, through whom he has brought His redemptive plan to fulfillment in His obedient life, His sacrificial death, His victorious resurrection, and exalted ascension!
At its core, Christmas should be the celebration of God’s hope for sinners in Jesus Christ the Son of God. I don’t have any problem having a season where we get together with loved ones and generosity is in the air. I have no problem with trees and lights and snowmen and candy canes and snow villages—and taking pictures occasionally with Santa at Cabela’s. I even remember telling a friend from California that I just couldn’t feel Christmas-y if I lived in a place that didn’t have cold and snow around this time of the year. In reality, though, none of that stuff really has to do with the birth of Jesus or celebrating God’s hope for sinners. None of that is truly Christmas.
Perhaps we think about the reason we have lights—Jesus is the light of the world. Perhaps we think about why we give gifts—an imitation and reminder that God has given the greatest gift of all. Maybe we don’t choose to celebrate Christmas with all of this other stuff, and that would be fine, too. If you’re a Christian talking about Christmas this season, would you think about what you mean when you use that word? If non-believers only heard us talking about Christmas in relation to our Savior and not just the common name for all sorts of winter festivals, decorations, and gatherings—would it mean something more to them and to us?