This Christmas, I found I was behind in some work, and I planned to do it. Is that a shocking admission? I bet you’re thinking, either that I’m a workaholic or do not give Christmas the reverence it deserves. I think you’re wrong on both counts.
Why? Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. I may celebrate my own birthday, but if I have work to do, I do it. I admit that I can’t compare Jesus to me, or even to my friends, whose birthdays I also celebrate in between work commitments. So, perhaps I need to explain the realisation, even revelation that hit me this year.
First, we do not treat Christmas like any other birthday. We celebrate the baby Jesus every year. I don’t do that with my birthday, I always celebrate how much I’ve grown from the past year, what I’ve achieved, why I’m grateful to God. I even take some time to think of where I’d like to be the next year. This is in between work of course.
Even while on earth, Jesus didn’t remain a baby forever. So, why do we focus so on baby Jesus. By doing so, we miss out on something most important, His purpose. His purpose on earth was so staggeringly significant that angels left heaven to announce it to shepherds (we celebrate that) and wise men travelled from distant lands to visit Him (we celebrate that too). In recognizing these, we concede that Christmas celebrates a momentous occasion, but don’t go further to explore why it was so significant.
Even more interesting, some focus on giving without recognizing that Christmas celebrates God’s gift of His son to us. We buy things for children, who discard them after two weeks. We buy the latest gadgets for adults, which get replaced by even newer ones. We buy treats for each other and consume them, and they end up as waste products, clogging up our disposal systems. But God’s gift doesn’t get replaced, and was not intended to be wasted. If that had been the case, angels wouldn’t have announced it, wise men wouldn’t have come from so far.
In a conscious or subconscious way, each of us knows that we’re here for a reason. If we didn’t think so, we’d just lie in bed all day. Even those who are forced by illness to do so are constantly wishing that it’s temporary. In the meantime, they look for ways to communicate to their friends and loved ones, or their carers. It has never been considered a term of endearment to say someone has no aim in life.
Furthermore, we all recognize that achieving that purpose must involve interaction with others. It’s not only those who lie in hospital that think that. Even the most selfish, filthy rich people know that to achieve their wealth, they had to buy or sell something to others. So, why do we celebrate Christmas with nativity scenes made up of dolls, Christmas trees, decorations and other things that cannot move or interact? Why don’t we celebrate our birthdays in a similar way? On your next birthday, would you commission an artist to depict the hospital scene with doctors, nurses, your mother and yourself being born?
So, if on our birthday, we celebrate our accomplishments, not our birth, I want to do the same for Christmas, and I find that there’s even greater reason to do that. You see, Jesus’ purpose was so marvellous that God could not keep the birth to Himself. It may have been humble, but it was an occasion that was momentous beyond human imagination. We all know about the angels and wise men, but the Bible also tells us about two prophets who told everyone about Jesus. Both were so old, but one in particular was made to wait for the birth before his own death. It was just like you’d tell a friend about a fireworks display, “you have to see this one!” Only the One saying this to Simeon was God Himself, who gives and takes life on earth. He said to Simeon, “this is so wonderful, I’ll make you wait to see it before you die!”
We all sing the carol “While shepherds watch their flocks by night …”. The last verse of the song goes “O Glory be to God on high and to the earth be peace, goodwill henceforth from heaven to men, begin and never cease”. Which means what?
The angel (and the book of luke says that it was one angel in chapter 2 verse 9) did not only tell the shepherds about where to find baby Jesus and how to recognize him. This angel was then joined by a multitude of heavenly hostspraising God and saying in verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” In their praise, the heavenly hosts were telling us about God’s plan for Jesus, to bring glory to God and peace to us on earth. Jesus Himself tells us about the peace in the gospel of John, he said (I’ll paraphrase) I give you my peace, not like other men give peace. In this world you will have trouble, but do not be afraid, I have overcome the world. So, it’s peace that comes to those who understand His purpose, his victory over the world, and most important, that He did not come to do things like we expect. But He did come because God so loved us that He had to implement a plan beyond our own understanding to save us from the horrible place we’d found ourselves. That’s also in the book of John, in the famous chapter 3 verse 16.
My problem with how we celebrate Christmas is that we’ve designed it and forgotten its purpose. God’s purpose in Christmas is salvation that goes on forever, that is continuing right now, and that is ever available for those who believe. Instead, we’ve made Christmas a seasonal thing. It’s so seasonal that it’s superstitious to keep Christmas decorations on after 6 January. I should have my Christmas decorations on all year, because the real purpose of Christmas never ends. Because it never ends, it carries on being Christmas, whether I’m working or celebrating, whether I’m eating or sleeping.
At least there’s one good thing: The fact we celebrate Christmas 2000 years later is a subconscious admission that Jesus still lives. He once died, but He rose again, and now He lives in heaven, forever implementing His Father’s plan for our salvation.
If you really want to know, I did not work on Christmas day. Apologies to all those waiting for me to complete one task or another. In fact, this is the first time I’m seeing my computer since before Christmas. I ate so much that there was no room at the inn for Christmas pudding, and it had to be passed on to someone else. But that doesn’t matter, does it? There will be another Christmas next year, and By God’s grace, I’ll be there, pacing myself better so I can take a double portion of the Christmas pudding. More important, it’s still Christmas today, tomorrow, and every day of my own life on earth … and yours too, if you agree!