Well, the first Sunday in Advent has come and gone. In four weeks from now Christmas 2015 will be a memory.
Christians often approach Christmas with mixed feelings. The best way I can describe it is a kind of “uneasy excitement”.
On the one hand there is excitement at the prospect of the holiday season, with all that this season entails. Presents, food, nostalgia and you could add to the list. It’s all there.
Then there is the uneasy bit. Why are we uneasy about Christmas? Partly, I think, because deep in our Christian psyche we feel we have sold Christmas to the world for thirty pieces of turkey and mince pies. The “real meaning of Christmas” bit is for many Christians reduced to a religious side show that amounts to no more than a couple of seasonally themed services.
And, if that wasn’t enough, there is the thought of those who happen to live really hard lives – at home or abroad – who won’t fare much better just because it’s Christmas: converted Scrooges are the stuff of Dickens rather than the part of any biblical narrative.
It’s not unusual for our uneasinesses (if there ever was such a word) to combine into an all out dread of the season.
For many of us, the only way to reconcile our conflicting emotions (I want to say “Dickensian dissonance” but it sounds far too pretentious), it seems, is to conclude that “It’s all about the children”.
And so we trudge through crowded shopping malls, queue at Santa’s grottos, pitch up at the carol service, manage to cook roast turkey for a couple of days, sustained by the thought that it’s really a season for children. And then, on 27th December, we breathe a sigh of relief because we feel that new year won’t be anything as difficult to navigate.
There must be a better way to “do” this season.
So what would I suggest?
Well, if you aren’t overcome with despair by reading the above, I would suggest that, whatever else you do this Christmas, you make some priorities.
Firstly, prioritise people.
Why? Because Christmas is all about people. You might say that it is all about Jesus. That of course is true. But the whole point of God becoming flesh in the person of Christ was because God wanted to meet people on their turf. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians sum up Christmas very neatly: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (5.19 KJV).
What plans have you made to reach out to people this Christmas? Who are you inviting to the carol service or Christmas outreach events? If you want to take Christmas back for Jesus, invite someone to a Christmas event. It is far and away the time of year that people are most likely to come to a church event. Why not make the most of it?
Secondly, prioritise prayer.
I know if I am too busy to pray, I am too busy. If we are too busy to pray at Christmas, we are too busy. We have no right – no right – to complain about how the world has hijacked Christmas if we don’t pray. How can anyone be too busy to attend at least one prayer event over the Christmas period?
Thirdly, prioritise praise.
If ever there was a time to rejoice, it is Christmas time. If ever there was a time to give thanks to God, it is in the season that we remember that He sent His Son into the world to save us from our sins. Just read the Christmas story as recorded by Matthew and Luke and you will find angels and people rejoicing.
Finally, remember the poor.
Jesus words “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 23.25), are perhaps more apposite at this time of year than any other. There are all sorts of ways we can bless the poor at Christmas, either by volunteering our time or giving to good causes.
The above might not roll back the secular tide that has engulfed Christmas, but at least it would be a step in the right direction.
One of the most poignant scenes in the Christmas story is when the magi arrive at Herod’s palace and Herod calls in the Bible scholars (Matthew 2.3-6). Clearly they understood all the prophecies about Messiah, yet instead of being swept up in what God was doing, they were content to serve a king who was an impostor, an unworthy alternative to the real Messiah.
How tragic it would be if, like the religious scholars in Herod’s palace, we too missed the real point of Christmas and ended up serving the fake secular substitute, created to serve the ends of Mammon.