I think other writers have clearly stated, much better than I, what the Christian should have as a guide to the celebration of Christmas. I refer to Dirk Westra’s article of last year, “How Should We Celebrate Christmas?” and Michael Bosveld’s contribution to the Christmas issue of Beacon Lights in 1989/1990. I admire the way in which these men quickly pierced to the heart of the issue, contrasting materialism with spirituality, going-to-the-mall excitement with mature joy, and lifeless traditions with sincere recognition of the beauty of salvation proclaimed through the birth of Jesus Christ.
I myself despise the carnality of the Santa Claus – Christmas parade – red and green shopping craze which the modern Christmas has become. I purpose to teach my kids not to get caught up in that. Perhaps the worst thing about Christmas is not how it deludes people with a false idol, but how it erodes their capacity to believe anything. Kids easily associate the manger scene with getting presents, the glory of God with the glitter of the Christmas tree, and Jesus with Santa Claus. What happens when as adults they realize all that is phony? They might think Jesus is phony too! “You believe in Jesus? He’s not real!”
We have to believe and hope that God will sovereignly teach us and our children what is true, don’t we?
In the Christmas of 1980 I suppose in a certain sense it might be true to say that I was as far from the Kingdom of God as it is possible to be. (Obviously not in the sense of God’s counsel of Election.) I had eaten a belly-full from the table of corruption. I was born to ungodly parents, raised in a humanistic household, a new-ager with a science fiction addiction since third grade, a drop-out from two different colleges, discharged from a military psychiatric hospital, a hitchhiker, an outcast, lying on the floor of a foul-smelling motel room in the bitter cold of a Montana winter, my stomach churning, trying to absorb a handful of sleeping tablets. As I lay there thinking I should be seeing the bright light of the astral plane anytime, I had no idea of the future. The last thing I wanted was to survive.
I was certain I had made the right choice. My studying and thinking had led me to the distinct conclusion that the world was not worthy of such an “enlightened cosmic traveler” as myself. I deserved to go away; to get my dead-end life over with in order to begin a better one. I knew better than to keep trying to teach these stupid people at this level of consciousness. I had higher hopes. I would change my channel – my focus. Like I said, about as far from the Kingdom of God as possible.
How it came about that I ended up glued to the particular of the particular – the Protestant Reformed – is another story. Suffice to say that the Spirit of God, in keeping with God’s purpose of love for me, never permitted me to destroy myself. We each have our own mysteries. Mine is how a soul so blind, so profoundly deceived, could be found embracing the liberating truth of God’s sovereign salvation.
That, my friends, is Christmas to me. For all the torturous route I’ve come, I sit at the foot of the Baby in the manger, the foot of the Cross, the foot of the Savior Jesus Christ. DRAWN by the power of redeeming love. PRESERVED by Wise Providence. MOLDED by the Eternal Craftsman, Who makes of the same lump “one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor.” Why be reduced to the poverty of superficial celebration when one can rejoice in the reality of divine purpose? Why forsake the infinite intensity of God’s irrepressible love for the ruthless push and shove of the Babylonian marketplace? Why lose sight for one moment of the hope of heaven and the degree of glory which each shall receive? As Dirk Westra wrote in his article, “If we are to be separate from the world, we must celebrate Christmas differently. . . . Noble as these things [trees, shopping, etc.] sound, they are empty if they eclipse the hope of deliverance from sin.” Nothing else compares with this wisdom – this understanding. Certainly nothing this world has to offer.
Conscience must dictate us in much of the details as far as how we celebrate, but we should be bound to the same ideal when it comes to why. We must do all things to the honor and glory of God; not out of selfishness, pride, carnality, or greed, no matter how decorated. We may not wrap our covetousness in colored paper and ribbons, our contentious spirits in the brief mirth of gay apparel, nor especially our Lord and Savior in the outfit of some over-fed actor who cries “Ho Ho Ho” from his beneficent throne at Sears. (Nor should we teach this nonsense to our kids.) May God work this deeply into us as individuals and into our churches as an institution.
*Michael Brenneman, with his wife and four young children, is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.