What is the heart of Christmas? What is the central heart-beat of this busy holiday? It seems like everyone is trying to get our attention with all the lights, displays, commercials, ads, cards, banners, and bribes of deep discounts.
You’ve heard it said, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” But How can we do it with so much going on? At times it seems that Christ is being crowded out. How far do we go to Keep Christ the center of Christmas?
- Do we throw away our trees
- Return our gifts
- Shred the wrapping paper
- pour out the eggnog
- Toss the Christmas cookies
- Store away the Christmas ordainments
- Lynch Santa
- Roast the Reindeer
- Slash the stockings
- Trash the tinsel
- Pop all the lights
- Drop the decorations
- Sell our Christmas movies
- Cancel time away with family
- Burn our Christmas sweaters? (Ok, so maybe burning Christmas sweaters is actually a good idea.)
In our over commercialized culture, what can we do to Keep Christ in Christmas? It almost seems that Christmas is being stolen from the Christians. Everything is Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas from the retail stores that want to be politically correct. So much that some Christian groups want to keep score. They have made a “Naughty and Nice” list of retail stores that used politically correct terms such as winter wonder land, Santa, and holiday instead of Christmas. This site challenges Christians to boycott these stores. Some Christians have waged war, with their campaign banners, shirts and buttons proclaiming, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” The Holidays wars have begun and it seems that every year, Christ gets squeezed out of this holiday even by those who are fighting to keep Him in it.
So what is our response to this mayhem? How do we and should we celebrate the Holiday that celebrates the birth of King, Jesus? Should we boycott all Holiday celebrations without a manger? Should we boycott all stores that don’t mention Christmas? Do we lock ourselves in a church and spend that time in monk style dedication to Christ? Do we lock up our chimney’s to keep a plump jolly man from entering? Should we boycott the Holiday all together?
That’s been done before: In Boston, A Puritan settled city – From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings.
I think for us to understand how to keep Christ in Christmas, we must travel back in time… Back before Santa Claus, Christmas lights, and Shopping Malls. We’ll make several stops in different times and location. First let’s travel to a sleepy little town called Bethlehem about 2000 years ago. Let’s look the reaction of those involved in the Nativity, maybe we’ll get a hint of how we are to react to the Heart of Christmas.
Luke 2:8-19 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
I love Luke’s version of the birth of Christ. Matthew’s gospel tells us the story of the Kings (wisemen) from the east following a star. Where Luke tells of a heavenly announcement from the angels to a group of shepherds… The Average Joe blue collar workers about the birth of a King. The wisemen brought gifts and returned home secretly, but the shepherds had a different role in Jesus birth. They brought nothing that we know of then left and told everyone. I believe their role was to tell everyone. God chose the most un-ideal messenger to announce the birth of His son, the King. But they were exactly who God wanted there.
Because it was announced by an angel, God could have invited anyone. He choose to invite the most common folk in the world… shepherds. It shows that Christ not only came for the Kings, but He also came for the common man. In fact, It was the common man whom they had in mind when Christmas was created… Yes, I said created.
Christmas as we know wasn’t celebrated on Jesus’ first birthday. In fact the first Christmas wasn’t celebrated until the 4th Century. Up to that point, the church only celebrated Easter. The Church leadership decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus as well. The big question was “When?”
They had a good biblical and historical time line for Easter, but we don’t have any clue when Jesus was actually born. Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. In Rome, a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. This was an adaptation of the Winter Solstice Celebration. Winter Solstice was Celebrated hundreds of years prior to the birth of Christ. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.
December 25 was chosen and was First called the Feast of the Nativity. The custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle ages, Christianity had replaced paganism. But many of the characteristics of their festivals remained. Christmas was a day that started with a church service and then ended with a drunken Mardi Gras style party. This style of celebration continued throughout the middle ages in Europe and into the newly discovered America. They celebrated this way at Jamestown in 1607 with Eggnogg (Which was mostly rum). But the Pilgrims, did not celebrate Christmas (as they were puritans… the same group who later banned Christmas in the 1600’s in Boston).
After the American revolution in 1700’s, English traditions fell out favor with Americans and so did Christmas. In fact congress would regularly meet on December 25th. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. Christmas as we know it, has only been celebrated for less than 150 years.
Christmas was celebrated first by the common man (the shepherds) and then instituted as a holiday during a time that would get the common man (the pagans) involved. Maybe Pope Julius had a great idea by placing the Celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25th… for he was successful in that Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in the whole world.
After the common man’s reaction to the birth of Christ, in the story of Luke, we have a mother’s Reaction. Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Pondered – the original meaning of this word is “weighed.” She kept them; she “weighed” them in her mind, giving to each circumstance its just importance, or compared them in her mind, with what had been said to herself by the angel, and also by her husband, as well as what was said by Elisabeth at the time she made her a visit. Weighing out everything regarding her new born child. We all do this as new parents. We ponder what our child will be like and we go ahead and give him/her characteristics. Mary said nothing of them to others and therefore left things, till time should make a discovery of them in a proper way, and in the best season.
At that time, no human on Earth loved that little baby boy who was Christ the king more than His mother Mary. And all she did was ponder? And why would Luke include this information? Luke is so technical in his writing. He wasn’t an emotional writer as some of the other gospel writers. In fact this word Ponder, only occurs here in the entire New Testament. The Shepherds told everyone, The Wisemen told no one, and Mary Pondered. So why can’t we ponder Christ in our hearts.
Maybe Christmas is getting over commercialized. Maybe the common man is taking over the holiday as it was intended. But I am glad to share the day we celebrate our savior’s birth with them… Christ didn’t just come for the king and the Christians, Christ came for the common man and those who yet to believe and will never believe. Today, I want to challenge you as a pastor that we can have the heart of Christmas if we ponder Him in our hearts. It’s that heart that really matters. God desires our hearts more than our actions
So celebrate, deck the halls, sing songs, be merry and jolly. Drink lots of eggnog without rum and give away too many gifts. If Jesus were walking on this earth his track record would show that He would attend a Christmas Party before he would step foot in one of our candle light services. A party is where the common man would be.
So don’t alienate yourself from Christmas. Keep Christ in Christmas by not pulling yourself out of it. For if Christ is in our hearts then He is in all of our celebrations. For if all Christians abandon the holiday, then He will cease to exist in our merry making. Christmas is about family, friends, generosity, love, joy and peace. That sounds a lot like Jesus to me.