Confession: I’ve been learning a lot about ways I get Christmas wrong. Sometimes I get so dizzy finishing the fall semester, tying up end-of-year work projects, attending Christmas parties, and executing holiday travel plans that I come up for air, dazed and confused, sometime in mid-January. Sound familiar? But this year, I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss Christ come and coming. I don’t want to miss the invitation to slow down, wait, expect, pray, hope…and receive.
1. We start celebrating too early
The Christian calendar has a season of Advent – four weeks of longing and expectation – that comes before Christmas. Today we tend to celebrate Christmas starting the day after Thanksgiving (if not way back on Nov. 1). But our Christian forerunners knew we needed a time of preparation to attune our hearts to the coming (first and second) of Christ before entering into the feast. Fast, then feast. What if there is room for us – in all denominations – to join them in that practice?
2. We stop celebrating too soon
The historic Christian feast of Christmas isn’t just 1 day long – it’s a 12-day celebration beginning Dec. 25 and lasting until Jan. 6. This is a HUGE feast for a huge reason: everything changed that first Christmas. As John the Baptist’s father Zachariah so prophetically sang: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.” What kind of witness would it be to the world if all the Christians entered into a massive season of celebration for a full 12 days…rejoicing in how God came to set us free?
3. We make it about stuff
America is one of the most consumeristic nations there is, and in the month of December we ascend to the height of annual materialism…even as Christians. How easily we are distracted. And truly, what could be more antithetical to the message of the gospel than getting caught up in patterns of buying our way to happiness?
4. We get hung up on perfection and miss Christ
We have a tendency to get upset when big organizations “take Christ out of Christmas”…but we often do the same thing ourselves without knowing it. How? By seeking perfection rather than presence. We search for the perfect present, work hard at perfect decorations, plan for the perfect Christmas dinner, get our hopes set on the perfect day. But that first Christmas wasn’t about perfection (it was in a stable with animals and hay and birth pains and blood, after all) but rather presence – the very Incarnation of the Son of God.
5. We forget the Story
Yes, Christmas is and should be a BIG deal for Christians. In fact, way bigger of a deal than we usually make it. But this essential feast of the Christian year is actually supposed to be the second highest pinnacle of the year. It’s the feast of Easter that sits at the top of the Christian calendar; the penultimate feast of Christmas isn’t the climax. Do we get why it matters that that baby showed up…and what it means for the redemption of the whole cosmos?
I have a history of getting Christmas wrong in these five ways. How about you? If you had to add one to your own list, what would it be?
I hope reflecting in this way will help us recognize and avoid these holiday missteps so we can enter deeply into a season of worship and connection with our God and our fellow man. Joyeaux noel!