This might sound like an odd title, so allow me to explain. While these two things should be near synonymous they have actually come to be in needless opposition to one another. We’ve become confused as to what we are celebrating, Christmas or Jesus. While the contemporary Christmas originated in the celebration of Jesus birth this religious definition has been supplanted by a more secular definition—even Jews, atheists, pagans and Hindus celebrate it—clearly its religious roots have been lost. Indeed, the majority of Brits view Christmas a merely a fun filled cultural festival. It is part of what it means to be British! It is about time off, good food, family, indulgence, Santa and gifts and other sparkling trappings. For some it includes the nativity and taking in some heart-warming carols as part of the wider buffet—squeezing Him in— but for the majority it doesn’t have to. For most though, it would be better if that nagging religious heritage were forgotten altogether (better for the conscience).
Christians have responded with slogans like: Jesus is the reason for the Season! or Keep Christ in Christmas! Many have sought to become anti-commercialistic in an attempt to strip things back. While some have taken notice, most have not. Christ still gets buried in all the secular traditions.
How did we get here? How did we arrive at a place where Jesus has been divorced from a term that bears His name (Christmas)?
Jesus was originally the reason for Christmas. While His birth date is unknown the Church chose December 25 as a date to celebrate a Christ Mass to encourage pagans to worship Jesus instead of their gods and traditions (don’t worry about the Roman Catholic theology here too much, just read “remember Jesus birth” for a short explanation).
Jesus is a perfectly beautiful object of worship, especially when we remember why he came:
She [Mary] will bear a son, and you [Joseph] shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21b
He came to rescue all those who would trust in Him to save them from their sin, which separates them from God. An indescribably great gift!
When we speak of women’s fashion you sometimes hear the word adorn. We often think that adornments serve to make someone more beautiful. Women, devoid of an understanding that they are created in the image of God strive to “adorn” themselves in an attempt to make them more beautiful, when they are already beautiful, bearing the very image of God.
Rather, adornments, serve to draw attention to, to point to, the beauty they already possess. The same is true of Jesus. The earliest traditions added to His celebration (Christmas) were designed not to make Him more wonderful but to point to Him. Things like carols, food, family, lights can all serve this function and they can come to have great joy associated with them because of the greater joy they point us to. If, however, they were robbed from us, we could still have a joyful, worshipful Christmas if our eyes were fixed firmly on Jesus (this is a good test to see what truly is the source of our joy and object of our worship, take away all the extras).
Yet the moment we shift our focus from Jesus to the adornments we’ve committed idolatry—worshipping something other than He who is worthy of our ultimate homage. To help diminish our sense of guilt that we’d rather worship a cheap plastic imitation rather than the real thing we deny that we have a sin problem. We suppress the reason why Jesus came in the first place (that ought to do it). Presto: the birth of the secular Christmas and the snowball of various traditions that accumulate like a snowball rolling downhill. They accumulate both to hide the truth and as a result of our failed attempt to celebrate something meaningless. When our traditions don’t satisfy, we add more. When it doesn’t feel sparkly enough, we add more tinsel. When in desperation we try anything to create that Christmassy feeling and it doesn’t work, we lose all hope.
This year as a chapel we have posted signs that don’t encourage people to celebrate Christmas or even to keep Christ [as an element] in Christmas but to “celebrate Jesus this Christmas.” The reason? People have a choice what to celebrate: Christmas or Jesus.
Christians don’t celebrate Christmas, rather they remember Jesus’ coming and express worship to Him for why He came at a certain time of year and call that time Christmastime. This infuses the period with a worshipful spirit such that whether you have the extras or not, it is a beautiful and meaningful time of year. To celebrate Christmas on the other hand is to worship everything in life that is fleeting and receive the due reward of meaninglessness.
The difference might appear subtle but in actual fact it couldn’t be more important to distinguish between the two.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,