What would you do if, during September or October, you were at your local supermarket and you came across Christmas advertising and Christmas products being prominently displayed? If you're anything like me, you'd probably do a bit of a double take, and then a silent frustration would slowly rise inside. It's too early isn't it? We're more than 2 months out from Christmas, how can shops be asking for people's Christmas spending already!
Now we can rage at the commercialisation of a Christian holiday and all that, but what if it wasn't a sale or some sort? What if we saw a proper nativity scene or a Christmas display or what if we heard carollers singing of the baby Jesus in the middle of June?
We would think it was strange.
Human expectation is a powerful thing. It can be all that determines whether we find something normal or odd, straight forwards or difficult. The celebration of Christmas is something we expect to do in the Christmas season, and an experience of Christmassy festivities outside of that limited time frame strikes us as unbalanced.
Rightly, as Christians committed to the person of Jesus Christ, we agitate over the dilution of the true Christmas message when the holiday is just an excuse for gifts and gluttony. And rightly we are uncomfortble with the commercial machinery that seeks to stretch out the material opportunity as much as possible. And yet that true Christmas message is one that shouldn't be bound by the designated time of year that we traditionally commemorate it. Is it not part of the 'true' Christmas message, that Christ's birth and entry into our world is a momentous reality on every day of the year?
This is the foolishness of Christmas. A designated day of the year, or perhaps a designated season, in which we are so focussed on this one profound truth that we become blind to it at other times. And not only that, in the all consuming bonanza that is Christmas, we also become blind to other truths, choosing instead to lock in with what is presented before us.
And yet still there is something about our human experience that requires our thoughts and our energies to be directed into something focussed in order for us to really appreciate it. We need a time or season that is set aside to consider something like the birth of Jesus deeply if we're to really engage with it and be enamoured by its importance. Like a birthday or an anniversary, the celebration of the day marks its value to us, even though the profundity and significance of life, or commitment or whatever we are celebrating, is something that is truly remarkable each and every day.
And so this is the wisdom of Christmas. A designated day of the year, or perhaps a designated season, in which we are so focussed on this one profound truth that we are able to see it clearly and reflect on it deeply, in a way that we have perhaps not afforded to because of all the other goings on of our lives.
The wisdom and folly of Christmas. Where does it leave us? Perhaps its wisdom ought to protect us from its folly. Perhaps the focus on Jesus' birth, the renewing of our appreciation of its truth and importance, ought to build us up in such a way that we are mindful of it in the seasons to come. Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, yes, but it's the gospel message that it is part of that's truly important. Christ's entrance into our world is a reminder of Jesus' incarnation, sure, but it is a story of God's salvation that has begun and finds its climax on the cross.
Consider then Philippians 2:6-11 - a thoroughly non Christmassy passage, that has Christmas all over it.
In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I suppose that's why we celebrate. Merry Christmas!
May it be full of the grace of God as we remember Jesus and all that he has done. And may its truth fill us with a peace and joy that lasts beyond the Christmas season as we are refreshed in the gospel of Christ.