“Christmas-time is here, by golly,
disapproval would be folly,
deck the halls with hunks of holly…
Brother, here we go again!”
So sang the comic songwriter, Tom Lehrer, and I wonder how many of us feel the same way, at least sometimes. Our nation seems to have a love-hate relationship with Christmas, and this, I am sure, is because of what it has become; an excuse to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need.
The pressures applied upon us by society are subtle: “it’s for the kids”, or “our family have always done this.” We must join in or people will assume we are grumpy old Scrooges. Because marketing departments promote Christmas as a time of goodwill and happiness, to opt out of their glitzy celebration is to be a miserable killjoy. Because they assert it is a time of peace, any attempt to expose the shallowness of that peace is fraught with danger. Disapproval would be folly – indeed! Our national Christmas celebrations are precious, and to question their validity or helpfulness is to walk a minefield of sensitivities.
And yet I would rather walk that path than by driven by malignant forces of consumerism, materialism and pride. I too want to assert that Christmas is precious, but for strikingly different reasons. Despite what the adverts tell us, and what we may have come to believe, Christmas is not primarily a time for families, or for making extravagant gestures highlighting the love we have for one another. It is first and foremost one celebration amongst many which tell of God’s amazing love for us.
From eternity, God saw how enslaved we were to the whims of the rich and powerful and to our own foolish pride. He saw we were living only half a life, encumbered by worries, facing an uncertain future and frightened of death. And he stepped in to rescue us from that oppression in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Christmas is a powerful celebration of God’s first-hand understanding of what it means to be human; in Christ Jesus, God became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).
By giving us his Son, God has given us the opportunity of real peace; not the “grit-your-teeth-Aunt-Gertrude-will-be-gone-by-Boxing-Day” kind of peace. In Jesus, he has given us real joy; not the plastic-grins of sound-activated dancing flowers or the short-lived, hangover-followed merriness of alcohol. In Jesus he has set us free to be who he created us to be; free from dancing to another’s tune, free to live life in all its fullness with him as our loving Father.
Now that is some Christmas present. And worth celebrating. As we make our plans for this Christmas, amidst the noise of the advertisers who would use us to make money for them, so God is calling us to enjoy his freedom. Will we listen?