Christmas 2016 is now a memory and the new year is still a few days off. As I reflect on the past couple of weeks, I find myself lingering over a question. It’s a simple question that seems like it should be rather easy to answer, yet it pesters me and leaves me unsettled. It’s a question that most of us who follow Jesus ask ourselves.
Have I truly celebrated Christmas?
Have I truly worshipped the King, celebrated His birth and immersed myself deeper into it’s significance? Or have I simply worshipped the holiday itself with it’s festive decorations, joyful gatherings and generous gifts? Honestly, I think these recent weeks for me have been more like the latter … and that bothers me.
In previous years I’ve done things like reading a biography of Herod the Great in order to better imagine the setting of Jesus’ birth, or memorizing the song Mary wrote as she contemplated the reality of what was happening. But this year I settled for merely attending church services and hearing a few thoughts from a Christmas devotional book. The bottom line is that Christmas seemed more domesticated and robbed of it’s drama. It’s my own fault. So, as I wallow in my disappointment I ask myself another question.
How should I celebrate Christmas?
What would it look like to truly celebrate Christmas as one who has personally benefitted from what happened on that day? What would it look like to truly celebrate Him? How should my celebrating differ from those who do not know Him?
As a starting point, I believe such a celebration doesn’t diminish the laughter and gifts and special times with family and friends. One of the key words in the biblical account is rejoice! If anything, our celebration should be more exuberant than those who view Christmas as nothing more than a cultural tradition. Our homes should be filled with laughter and singing, with gifts and decorations. We should never be out-celebrated by those who hedonize the significance of this event. On the other hand, our celebration should never become trivialized into something that is harmless and inoffensive to an unbelieving world. I believe it takes a consistent, conscious effort to keep Jesus as the centerpiece of the holiday events.
So what might this look like? How can I celebrate Christmas differently next year? Although much of my celebrating might appear similar to others and include many of the same traditional trappings, I’ve considered several possibilities for distinguishing how I will celebrate next year. They are not overt, counter-cultural activities. They are more personal, intended to alter me in the midst of the holidays. They are not in place of other Christmas activities, but in addition to them. Each of the possibilities addresses something in me that was missing this year.
First: Giving gifts to Jesus. Hey, it’s His party! My thought is that maybe I, like the Magi, could bring gifts to Jesus—acts of worship that acknowledge His royalty and my redemption. Beginning on the 1st of December, I could offer one specific gift to Jesus each day leading up to Christmas. It could be kinda like filling in my own Advent calendar, praying about and deciding upon what gift I could give on that day—something that I know would please Him.
Second: Intentionalizing my Christmas activities. My thought is that I could cultivate a habit of thinking through each activity before I step into it, asking myself how I can make Jesus more the center of it. How can I transform annual rituals like decorating a tree and purchasing gifts into celebrations of my Savior? How can I, as His representative, be a blessing to others in the various holiday gatherings? What stories might I tell of Jesus’ work in my life and how would I tell them? I could weave this into my devotional time each morning, pre-thinking my words and actions.
Third: Memorizing a Christmas poem. I know the biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth and the events that surround it. I’m not at a loss for information. But along with the annual rehearsal of the account, I need something that stimulates a fresh, life-giving engagement with it’s truth. One way I might achieve that is through a well-crafted poem or a poetic rewording of a biblical text. Poetic language helps me to see what I have previously missed and to contemplate Christmas on a more personal level. Poetic language can weave deep theological truth into the ancient narrative. My thought is that memorizing such a poem early in December and reciting it throughout the month would enrich my celebration of Christmas.
It’s easy for me to consider such possibilities today. Christmas is a year away. There’s a lot of life to live between now and then. I could simply file these thoughts away with a note to revisit them next November. Or I could continue this conversation within myself, asking:
How will I celebrate Him today?