It’s December. We’ve hung up our decorations, done slightly more than half of our shopping and put up the tree. I’ve lovingly assembled my two Nativity sets, the decorations that always carry the most meaning and significance for me.
And of course, with December comes the quarreling and controversy. Some people say there’s a “War On Christmas” (though personally, I have never encountered anything like this.) People argue about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Christians are fond of demanding that everyone “put Christ back in Christmas.” One witty response that I saw insisted they would prefer to see us “put Christ back in Christianity” first.
As with most controversies, I can see both sides of the issue. The commercialism of Christmas has always bothered me. It has always felt like a rude slap in the face to see this (for me) deeply sacred holiday twisted in the service of commercialism. It hurts to see the name of Christ used as a reason to rush into the stores in a frenzy of greed by people who do not know Christ at all and have no interest in knowing Him.
Yet on the other side of the argument, how Christian is Christmas really?
Historians and theologians all agree that Jesus was not born in December at all. His birth was more likely to have occurred in the months between spring and fall.
It was not until the fourth century that Christians began celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25. While no one knows for sure, most historians believe that the date was chosen by the early Christians out of deference to the pagan holiday of Yule which occurs at the winter solstice. And that makes sense. After all, regardless of what we believe, we all need something to celebrate during the darkest time of the year.
Yet despite these logical arguments against Christmas as a Christian holiday, it can’t be denied that something magical happens around Christmas time.
The celebration of God coming to earth to reside in the hearts of fallen humanity has resonance for everyone.
After all, what was it the angel said? “I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be for all people.”
Not just the Jewish people. Not just Christians. Not just churchgoers. All people.
And it seems for just a little while during that month of December, that feeling popularly known as “the Christmas spirit” does come upon us without discrimination.
Fred Holywell said it best in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “I’ve always thought of Christmas as a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely,... though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
For this moment in the long calendar of the year, God allows each person to feel his presence within our hearts. And the joy is so great that we can’t help but let it overflow with showy light displays, piles of wrapped gifts, the most gorgeous Christmas tree. And I must admit that’s pretty amazing.
It really is true that the news of Jesus’ birth, as described in Luke, still represents “good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people.” All people everywhere, no matter where they live, how much money they have, or even their relationship with Jesus the rest of the year.
We get this brief moment in time when the whole world feels the pull of the Holy Spirit on all of our hearts.
And I say...God bless it.