Faith, Personal

The real value of Christmas

Even though I’m a Christian, I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year.

The home in which I was raised followed no particular faith. My parents acknowledged the God the Bible described, but their devotion went no further. For us, Christmas was a big family holiday where we got to see all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I have loads of warm memories from those gatherings. Many of my friends talked of the baby Jesus (after, of course, talking excitedly of the presents they anticipated). A few of my classmates were Jewish and several were Serbian; they had their own celebrations at different times. And so I have always has this sense that the holidays are what you make of them.

Lit Up at Night

My mother said more than once that Christ couldn’t possibly have been born in December – his birth was more likely sometime in autumn. She also said that the whole reason the Christian church celebrated Christ’s birth on December 25th was because in the church’s early days, non-believers already celebrated a winter festival at about that time, and it was easier to convert them if the church had a celebration then, too. Christianity should be a faith of truth, she reasoned, and she couldn’t reconcile how Christmas was predicated on a falsehood. It sounded good to me, and when I grew up I looked into it and found that there was plenty of evidence to support Mom’s claims. That didn’t stop her from playing her records of traditional Christmas hymns every December, though! (Because of her, I still love to hear Johnny Mathis at Christmas.)

None of this was enough to deter me from seeking God as an adult. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I got serious about God I did it in the Church of Christ, a branch of Christianity that celebrates Christmas only as a secular holiday. Most Church of Christ congregations hold a restrictive view of Biblical authority that leads them to observe only what they believe God commands in the Bible. The Bible tells us to celebrate Christ’s death, but never once to celebrate his birth. So they take communion (the Lord’s Supper, they call it) every week, but during December their mostly a cappella congregations sing no Christmas songs and their preachers avoid talking about Christ’s birth.

Eventually I left the Church of Christ’s narrow interpretations in search of greater love from God. Of course, I landed in a church that celebrates Christ’s birth all December; it was nearly impossible to avoid it. Until we fell on hard times, we always held a big Christmas production with a chorus singing traditional Christmas songs and a telling of the nativity story.

What's the Reason for the Season?

I’ve said this to nobody at my church, but this was very hard for me to accept for a long time.

I’m unlikely ever to fully personally embrace Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth. Not only were the wrong seeds planted in me as a boy, they were well cultivated when I became an adult. Don’t feel sorry for me; I love the Lord deeply and don’t feel like I’m missing out on one iota of his love for me. But let me tell you why I have come to think that celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas is not just all right, but just wonderful:

Because his birth is so openly and joyfully celebrated each December 25, who in the western world has not heard of Jesus Christ?

I know, I know, the holiday has been tainted with commercialism, and because of political correctness we now say “Happy Holidays” to each other rather than “Merry Christmas.” Still, I don’t think the holiday’s connections to Christ and his promise for us have been lost. And when I consider all that celebrating Christmas has done to introduce people to Jesus, my mind boggles. Who cares about the celebration’s origins? God has certainly used it for good.

May God use this Christmas season for good in your life.

And may this Christmas create many warm memories for you. One of my favorite Christmas memories involves a Polaroid camera. Read the story.


21 thoughts on “The real value of Christmas

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The real value of Christmas « Down the Road --

  2. Michael says:

    I see we’re very similar in this regard though you can express it much more eloquently. By the way, the cross picture is one of the best I’ve seen you take. Once again, Merry Christmas!

    • I didn’t know you were of similar mind on this. Thanks for the compliment on the photo! I took it at the church at the big intersection near my house.

      • Michael says:

        Arrrgh! I can’t find my Johnny Mathis CD! Even though I’ve been listening to “hard” Christmas music while working on the house the past few weeks, I still sing his tunes in my head at other times. I was going to mellow out these next couple days. I’m bummed. :(

  3. Jim, wonderful post! I love your perspective that Christmas, although secularized, has served to proclaim the name of Jesus to Western culture. I never looked at it that way, and it makes perfect sense. I worship Jesus all throughout the year, so I don’t mind the secularization of Christmas. I don’t need Christmas carols and eggnog to remind me of the gift that God gave us. But, of course, I still enjoy those things and all the other good things this time of year brings. Merry Christmas to you!

    • Thanks, Holly! Seeing it this way is what finally let me relax about how my church celebrates Christmas. I personally don’t hold this day above any other, but I can see very clearly how this one day cements the devotion of so many of my brothers and sisters. Who am I to judge that?

  4. While we do celebrate Christmas, we keep foremost in our hearts everyday the love of God and the Gift of salvation He gives us through the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ!

  5. Chris Rowland says:

    For myself, I still can’t accept Christmas as a way that Christ wants to be worshipped. While the concept sounds good to our human reasoning, and Jesus is worthy of our praise every day whether He was born this time of year or not, so much of what we see in the Christmas trappings today have their foundations in other religions.

    Statements like those in Deuteronomy 12:29-32 tell me a lot about the freedom we have to choose how to worship Him: “…do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way… Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”

    I don’t sit in judgment of those who worship however they feel led to, and hope they have a fulfilling Christmas season. But I do not feel led that way myself.

    • Chris, I get you. When I was in the Church of Christ, my thinking was very similar. Today, I lean heavily on Romans 14, especially in verse 4 when it says, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

  6. Our interfaith family celebrates Christmas as a secular holiday.

    However, I think we should try to celebrate the teachings and example of Jesus every day.

    And because I’m Jewish, political correctness does not forbid me to wish you a very “Merry Christmas.” :-)

  7. Dani says:

    My folks were not church-goers; faith and the Bible were not discussed because Dad could not wrap his head around the whole “God thing”. To this day his head still spins if he thinks about it. Regardless, somewhere along way the thought that Christmas = the celebration of Christ’s birth and life were deeply planted and the commercialism of Christmas was enough to make push the joy of the season well out my back door. However, as my relationship with God has deepened, my perspective of Christmas changed. Had you posted this a few years, I would have responded much differently. Today I shall post “well said.”

  8. Hi, Jim. This is was a really thoughtful post. I think a lot of people make the mistake of assuming everyone thinks of Christmas the same way they do. It never occurs to them that other people might see things differently.

    • Todd, thanks. On the one hand, the worries we seem to have today about offending others by saying Merry Christmas feels a little out of hand. On the other, you never really know what Christmas means to someone, do you?

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