I confess that I really have a hard time with the 21st-century version of Christmas, too often a commercialized free-for-all built on excess. The retail decor goes on display earlier and earlier, crowding out other holidays, making me feel like the holiday has been hijacked for some retailers to beat last year’s record sales. Then, after all the presents and Christmas parties, we end up with a hangover — if not from the spiked eggnog, then from credit card bills. I know, call me The Grinch.
I’m really not against gifts, good food, celebrating with family and friends, or even retailers making a buck off it. It’s just that the commercialization of the holiday has threatened normalcy. How many viral videos have we seen where early shoppers wait in line for hours, dash through the doors and elbow their way past the nearest competitor to grab the latest must-have gift? What is wrong with us?
A bigger problem in the festivity-fixes we seek is that we miss the main point of Christmas, leaving us to forget what precipitated such a big to-do in the first place. Turn your radio dial or Spotify channel past the modern understanding of the holiday where songs like “Santa Baby” tap our inner greed. Or the sentimental “Where Are You Christmas?” that searches for that once perfect day, which probably never existed anyway. And move to a station where the hymns and carols capture its deeper meaning. You’d be surprised that a shopping competition that ends in a fight is the polar opposite of the Christmas message heard in Isaac Watts’ ”Joy to the World.”
Christmas is much more than presents and celebrating with family. At its core, it’s the celebration of a historical event with a radical paradigm shift for life. It doesn’t end with the babe in the manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels heard on high, or even the wise men. What makes Christmas worthy of such celebration is a Savior who came on a rescue mission to deliver His people from sin and darkness (Matt 1:21). The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so that we may dwell with the triune God in the new and sinless world for eternity.
This babe wrapped in swaddling clothes eventually grew to manhood, and ministered to the needy and mended real suffering. This was his mission. Jesus healed the lame, the lepers, and the blind. He challenged religious leaders bent more on power than on compassion for their congregations. He challenged the prevailing political views that Israel’s king would raise up an army and drive the Romans out of Jerusalem. And for all this, Jesus was eventually rejected.
In some ways, not much has changed since Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified some 2000 years ago. Human nature certainly hasn’t. Power continues to corrupt. We look to temporal rulers as ultimate authorities to hammer out solutions for all our problems. We seek material fixes to satisfy our deepest needs.
Christ is the greatest gift of the season because he came to give us so much more than this. CS Lewis captured this sentiment in another context when he said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” And so it is with Christmas absent the deep spiritual implications.
The greatest gift of Christmas is Jesus who came to reconcile us sinful creatures to a holy God. This means we can walk in peace with God and that we also have a chance to live in harmony with one another. The great sacrifice Jesus made allows our souls to be restored. And for us to be restored in right relationship to the Creator. Isaac Watts captured the extent of Christ’s coming when he wrote “No more let sins and sorrows grow. Nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” This is good news worth celebrating. Merry Christmas!
Richard Nelson is the Executive Director of Commonwealth Policy Center.