“…(Christ Jesus) though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something be exploited, but emptied himself…” (Phil. 2:6)
It is undoubtedly a scandal that Christmas has become so commercialized. It’s downright unseemly that we would observe the birth of the Savior of all humankind by trading disposable knickknacks and stuffing ourselves with sweets. And yet, despite the well-publicized protests of Charlie Brown and the like, we continue our obscene carousing with no signs of abating.
However, it’s worth considering if such pearl-clutching is in order. First of all, such handwringing is a bit sanctimonious. More importantly, though, it’s misguided! Take a second look at the wellspring of our Christmas celebrations.
Christmas is the story of a Savior who came to give himself for the profane. Listen to the angel’s song again if you don’t believe me. Or, consider to whom the song was first sung: some no-account shepherds!
The Christmas story tells of the Savior who conspicuously did not arrive in a tastefully appointed hall of power or a pristine and well-kept temple. Instead, this Messiah was born to an unwed peasant couple. And, as we like to sing, this God-in-the-flesh was first laid “away in a manger.” He had no crib for his bed.
Christmas is about the promise that this Savior gives his goods to the religiously unclean and socially acceptable alike! Given all this, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that this holy occasion has been so commercialized. In fact, on balance, it would seem this sacred day even lends itself to co-opting.
Christ came to give himself for all. Apparently, he likes to play fast and loose with his blessings. As such, it makes perfect sense that the day honoring his birth would be observed in a decidedly less than refined manner.
But that’s not all. The promise of Christmas isn’t just that Christ has come not to judge the world (John 12:47). No, ultimately, the promise of Christmas is that Christ has come to do more than that. Christ has come to save the world!
In other words, Christ blesses everything he touches! That means the story of his birth doesn’t just make itself readily available. No, it means the story of his birth has the power to christen, as it were, whatever it comes into contact with.
This is why one can’t help but suspect that few have actually tried to stop the exploitation of Christmas. Because what tends to happen is that no sooner does a person set about to excise some debasing of the holiday than the holiday extends its holiness over said degrading—for instance, Advent calendars. I am speaking from personal experience here.
Cheap and waxy chocolates in a flimsy cardboard calendar do absolutely nothing to make Advent any more sacred. In fact, the exact opposite is more likely the case. However, I also can’t deny that I’ve found considerable succor in this tawdry little trinket.
Opening a little perforated square after a day full of events too large for my capacity has often come as a profound solace. And clearly, the tasteless confection or gaudy decorations didn’t provide this comfort, either. No, what granted me such consolation was the promise behind my trite little practice.
We dream it’s our job to elevate Christmas through our practices. But that gets it utterly backward! It’s the promise at the heart of Christmas that bears aloft all it touches.
Each box on the advent calendar represents one step closer to that holy night of our dear Savior’s birth. And what’s so holy about this birth is that the One who is born deigns to give his holiness. As Luther discovered, Christ’s glory is the glory he bestows (Preface to Latin Writings). And Christ, good God that he is, has wrapped up all his goodness for me many a night in nothing more than some garish tinfoil containing nothing more than a cut-rate chocolate.
We tend to think we need to bring the right and salutary observance to our Christmas. We imagine this because we dream it’s our job to elevate Christmas through our practices. But that gets it utterly backward! It’s the promise at the heart of Christmas that bears aloft all it touches. And that’s the promise you have this Christmas!
So don’t beat your breast for the weak spot you have for sugar cookies this Christmas. Instead, add an extra one (or two) of them on your goodie plate this year. That’s what goodie plates are for!
But when you do, don’t forget to do so in honor of the Christ-child who has seen fit to show up amid such mawkishness. Christ has held nothing back from you this Christmas. And he hasn’t waited for you to clean up your act, either. Instead, he’s just gone ahead and handed it all over to you while we were yet sinners.
And I do mean all. Christ hasn’t just blessed your little Christmas traditions. No, he’s given you everything and eternity, too. And it’s that prodigal goodwill that permeates all your Christmas practices with real glory this year.
May you have a heaping helping of that this Christmas. Along with everything else that comes along with this blessing, too.