Monday, December 8, 2008

Christ-centered Christmas

I love the Christmas season. For one month out of the year we are invited to lay aside the weight of this world and instead contemplate the Hope represented by a birth in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, the world does not like to be set aside and finds numerous ways to invade our season of Hope. It seems that for many people the days and weeks leading up to Christmas have become a frantic rush of preparations and activities that, in the end, have very little to do with the birth we claim to celebrate.
During my time as a missionary in Japan, I witnessed Christmas from an entirely secular viewpoint. Japan is not a Christian nation, so I was surprised as Christmas approached to find Christmas trees and Christmas music in the stores. From my Japanese associates I learned that Christmas is, indeed, celebrated in Japan. That is, in many homes trees are decorated, presents are given, Santa Claus is acknowledged. The true spirit of Christmas, however, is missing, because the reason for Christmas is not celebrated. Christmas is celebrated in Japan because retail stores and other commercial interests have learned to exploit it. The true celebration, the proclamation "Joy to the World, the Lord is come; let Earth received her King!" in nowhere to be found.
Sadly, I find that this version of Christmas is far to common in our own country. We find stores feverishly vying with each other to sell the trappings of the season--the trees, ornaments, light displays, and to make us believe that this or that special gift will be just the thing to impress our family and friends. We find ourselves caught up in competitions for the best decorated house, the most lavish party, the most expensive or creative gift. Instead of being a season of peace, joy, and hope, Christmas becomes a season of fatigue and stress.
In constrast to the rush and flurry of the world we have the quiet image of a tiny baby, "wrapped in swaddling bands, lying in a manger". There were no gifts that first Christmas. The gold, frankincense and myrrh of the wise men would arrive much later on the scene. Instead, there were shepherds, following the directions of a heavenly messenger, kneeling in solemn wonder before the greatest Shepherd of all.
This is the Christmas I want for my family. The trappings of Christmas--the trees, lights, songs, food, gifts--should play a secondary and supportive role, pointing us towards and not away from the message of the angels that holy night: "For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord".
This message, the message of a Savior, was the one I was in Japan to share, and that Christmas Day in 1999 we found a way to do so. One of our service activities as missionaries was to teach free Enlgish conversation classes, and Christmas day fell on one of our regularly scheduled class days. We planned a Christmas party to celebrate, and to teach the true meaning of Christmas. We read the Christmas story from the Bible, and our children's class acted it out in front of their parents and friends. It was a very sweet and simple Christmas. I was thousands of miles away from family and friends, but in the celebration of the birth of our Savior I was enveloped in the warmth of Christmas.
I pray that this Christmas and every Christmas can be such a celebration for my family.
Lord, with the angels, we too would rejoice
Help us to sing with the heart and voice
Glory to God
Glory to God
Glory to God in the Highest
Peace on Earth good will to men
Peace on Earth good will to men.


Karene said...

AMEN! I couldn't have said it better myself.

Violin Mom said...

How interesting about Japan. I loved this post. One of my ways to try to keep this season peaceful is to put homeschooling aside during this time. I think people get frantic at Christmas time because they normally live their lives without any margin at all, and therefore have great difficulty adding in the Christmas tasks without chaos and stress.

Kelley said...

This is one of the reasons I am thankful that we don't have a lot of money this year to buy presents. We aren't in the stores very much, and because we don't have TV we aren't being subjected to the constant barrage of commercials either. We are really trying to focus on the Savior (though admittedly we could still do a better job) and on the traditions of being a family. It's really helping to keep things simple, though trying to start a new business right now DOES make things a bit crazy!

Paula said...

Hmm, that comment on how people normally live their lives at the margin really has me thinking...I think you're right.