Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Miss Christmas

Christmas holds many memories for me. As a child, I experienced the anticipation and excitement that is common to most children. Lying in bed on Christmas eve, unable to sleep, listening for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof, imagining what kinds of wonderful presents there might be in the morning. Coming downstairs while it was still dark, to find stockings hung over backs of chairs (we had no mantle to hang them from), usually my dad’s work socks, filled with candy and nuts with an orange in the toe. Seeing my parents’ bedroom door closed in the days leading up to Christmas, knowing my mom was in there wrapping presents in red and green and white tissue paper. My mom up long before us Christmas morning, busy in the kitchen with stuffing and pies. The table set with Christmas themed serviettes and mom’s best dishes, and always a Jell-O salad. The living room linoleum, having been coated with paste wax by mom, brought to a gleam with the electric floor polisher. Decorations hung all around, and of course, the lovely aroma of the Christmas tree filling the air.

There are also memories that aren’t so pleasant. Realizing how hard my mom worked, and how tired she was throughout the whole day. She tried to make the best Christmas that she could for all of us. Memories of when my dad was laid off from his job, and my mom bringing home a bag of toys from the department store where she worked part time. Him telling her she had to take them back, as we couldn’t afford them.

At some point I began to feel guilty about my presents, as they represented her hard work and sacrifice, and I would have rather gone without than see her go through the anxiety and exhaustion every year. Memories, too, of that sad feeling when the day was over. You wanted it to last forever.

When I grew up and had my own family, I think I was more exited than my kids were. I was likely the last one to fall asleep, as I anticipated their joy and excitement in the morning. Hours spent shopping, and wrapping, and planning, and cooking and cleaning. I looked forward to Christmas, but also dreaded it. There was always the pressure to “make” a good Christmas, as though it was all up to me, and in many ways it was. Still, it was a good time with family, and always that indescribable Christmas spirit in the air.

After God saved me, Christmas became something else again. The first time I heard Christmas Carols as a believer, I wept. It was as though I was hearing them for the first time, the words so rich with meaning that I had never grasped before. Christmas became more about Jesus, and less about gifts, though I loved the giving, and the getting too. The best part was sending out cards with scripture, hoping that God would use them to draw friends and family to Himself. I carried on with all the traditions the same as before, only with a new joy in my heart.

Then about 6 years ago, I looked into the origins of Christmas. I discovered that it was originally a pagan feast day. As I investigated one after the other of the roots of most of the Christmas traditions that we observe, I became increasingly upset, and convinced that I should have no part in this pagan holiday. I even wrote a letter to the elders at my church, and an essay on the whole subject.

It was most upsetting to me to come to service one Sunday around that time to see a Christmas tree displayed in the baptismal tank, with curtains pulled back, making it the focal point at the front of the church, almost as an object of worship. Adding insult to injury was the fact that tiny gold crosses were used for ornaments on the tree. I came very close to turning around and leaving, and considered marching to the front and drawing the curtains across to hide the tree. I did stay for the service, but questioned one of the elders about it. I don’t think I was the only one that was upset; the tree was gone the next Sunday.

Those years ago I stopped having a tree, sending cards, or giving presents, save for my grandchildren, which I have been almost ashamed to admit to, given my strong opinions on the whole thing. I don’t put up lights, or any decorations. I have felt in many ways that I would love to take Christ out of Christmas, rather than put Him back in. What has He to do with all of these things? Trees, and presents, and eating and drinking to excess, office parties where His name is never mentioned unless it is a curse or used in a joke, where the women dress in the most revealing outfits they can get away with, and the booze is flowing. What has He to do with buying gifts that no one needs, and going into debt to do it? The churches are filled at Christmas, but these once a year “believers” aren’t there to worship Him, they don’t know Him. Church is just one more tradition that they use, part of the Christmas Spirit that has nothing to do with Jesus.

Every year we go through the same thing. We groan at the thought that Christmas is coming. We have to get ready for Christmas. In my mind I have a picture of Christmas: it is a huge tree with a Santa Head, dangling to do lists of shopping and cooking and cleaning and wrapping. It looms over us all, holding us hostage to its traditions and demands.

For me all of the joy went out of Christmas those years ago. Since then, I have dreaded it, knowing I would have to answer the age old question dozens of times “are you ready for Christmas?” I then explain that I don’t do much shopping, and that it is mostly about having my family around me and celebrating the birth of Christ.

But I miss it. I miss Christmas. The stirrings of Christmas spirit are trying to take over, it seems. I miss knitting and sewing and baking home made gifts. I miss buying and giving gifts to my family and friends. I am weakening, bit-by-bit, year-by-year. In the past two years, I sent out cards again, since it is one time of year that people will be more tolerant of the Christian message. I am now buying gifts for my husband, children and grandchildren. Christmas Carols have a certain power to soften my heart, and I have a growing desire to share Christ with people. Maybe because I see them rushing around in a frenzy of activity, and I know that the Christmas that they celebrate is not based on the “peace with God and good will toward men” that I now have in my own life.

I tend to be black and white in my thinking. I have been quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater in many areas of my life, and Christmas is a major one. So here I am, slowly making my way back to a balance of grace and truth. I don’t think I am giving in to pressure from without; I hope it is not a case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” I believe that it is simply my growing toward grace, and away from an attitude that has been unnecessarily and even detrimentally dogmatic.

I have been thinking about my attitude toward all things Christmas. I realize that it isn't so important what "I" think about it, as how I react to others at this time of year. Do I display the love and grace of Christ? That is what matters. Christmas seems to be here to stay, and I am coming to the conclusion, as I usually do with all struggles in my Christian walk, that it is not tradition, or situations, or other people, that God must change, but rather it is my own heart.


Anonymous said...

"Christmas is coming! Quite so; but what is "Christmas"?
Does not the very term itself denote its source-- "Christ-mass."
Thus it is of Romish origin, brought over from Paganism.
But, says someone, Christmas is the time when we commemorate
the Savior's birth. It is? And who authorized such commemoration?
Certainly God did not. The Redeemer bade His disciples "remember"
Him in His death, but there is not a word in Scripture, from
Genesis to Revelation, which tells us to celebrate His birth." - Arthur Pink

While I agree that Pink has a point, I will provide a quote below from John MacArthur that also causes us to consider Christmas as Christians not because of its pagan origins (for if we're concerned about pagan origins Christians should stop using names for the days of the week since they are all based on paganism).

"We believe celebrating Christmas is not a question of right or wrong since Romans 14:5-6 provides us with the liberty to decide whether or not to observe special days:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks (Rom. 14: 5-6).

According to these verses, a Christian can rightfully set aside any day--including Christmas--as a day for the Lord. We believe Christmas affords believers with a great opportunity to exalt Jesus Christ.

First, the Christmas season reminds us of the great truths of the Incarnation. Remembering important truths about Christ and the gospel is a prevalent New Testament theme (1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Peter 1:12-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:5). Truth needs repetition because we so easily forget it. So we should celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Christ and to marvel over the mystery of the Incarnation.

Christmas can also be a time for reverent worship. The shepherds glorified and praised God for the birth of Jesus the Messiah. They rejoiced when the angels proclaimed that in Bethlehem was born a Savior, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The babe laid in the manger that day is our Savior, the "Lord of lords and King of kings" (Matthew 1:21; Revelation 17:14).

Finally, people tend to be more open to the gospel during the Christmas holidays. We should take advantage of that openness to witness to them of the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Christmas is chiefly about the promised Messiah who came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The holiday provides us with a wonderful opportunity to share this truth.

Although our society has muddied the message of Christmas through consumerism, myths and empty traditions, we should not let these distract us from appreciating the real meaning of Christmas. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to remember Him, worship Him and faithfully witness of Him."

There is much truth in what Dr. MacArthur has to say about whether Christians should celebrate Christmas or not and there is equal truth in what Arthur Pink says. I think the biggest deal is how America has turned Christmas into consumerism and "Santa Claus".

RJW said...

Oh, Mac, what a beautiful, heart-breaking post.

Christmas is just one day that the "world" celebrates; we can celebrate everyday, in our own grateful heart. Is there anything more awesome than "Emmanuel:God with us"???

Here are the words to one of my favorite songs: Emmanuel


Emmanuel, God with us

What a won - der - ful myst - ery

What an awesome love

I have been, made free from sin

I am cruci - fied with Chri - st

And in Jesus I’m alive

And I’m redeemed by the blood of the Lamb

And I am loved by the Great I AM

You are the Prince of Peace, Mighty God

Everlasting Father

Risen One, Lion and the Lamb

Alpha and Omega

I could sing these words forever and still be overwhelmed by the love of God.

I am glad that God is restoring all that was stolen from you, mainly your joy.

Maureen said...

Hello Anonymous. I love those verses from Romans. They express so well our freedom in Christ. Yes, we are free to celebrate Christ's birth. Though scripture doesn't ask us to, it doesn't say we shouldn't (to my knowledge.) Celebrating His birth is not a problem for me. I only wish we would do it on a day other than December 25th. For that holiday has indeed been "tarnished" by all that is worldly; greed and excess and a seeking of "happiness" in materialism. I wish we could somehow extrecate Christ out of the superficial, commercialized, sentimentalized event that it has become.

Thank you for the quotes, both of which make excellent points.

Maureen said...

Jamie, I love that song as well. And many others that I wish we would be hearing all year long, not just at Christmas in the department stores, in a hip-hop arrangement. Doesn't quite do the profound lyrics of some of those carols justice.

Another thing that bothers me is the pressure that Christmas puts on us to be with family and be especially happy for that short season. Some people are lonely, depressed, and broken all year round. And when Christmas comes along, it only accentuates their misery if their experience doesn't live up to the "myth" of Christmas cheer that the greeting cards and television specials portray.

But again, we can offer them REAL hope, in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a hope that is eternal.

(I'm working through it all :o)

Thank you for your lovely words Jamie.

Amy said...

Thank you for sharing your honest experiences, thoughts and feelings surrounding Christmas.

Ah...I do fully understand about understanding the Pagan traditions of how it all began. I do know all of it.

However, I also know that one can become "overly Religious" in the sense of being rigid and restrictive. For doing so, is actually not in the spirit of Papa Son Holy Spirit.

I, have come to realize that it's too "easy" to throw everything out. But, that, truly would be "throwing the baby out with teh bathwater."

There are sometthings we most certainly can deemphasize or choose not to embrace during the season. For example, I don't get gung-ho about Santa, nor do I go overboard with shopping for presents. However, I find the gift of giving is wonderful, and I too love the delight on my receivers faces and imagine it in their hearts. This is important for relationship. I love it.

As well,since coming to a realization of Christmas Pagan origins, I still put up a tree, still decorate my apartment, yet I make the main focal point Jesus. After all, Christ CELEBRATED. Jesus attended numerous weddings, attended feasts, and probably many local galas of teh day. He knew that for humans, this is important. Father desires His children to engage in celebration, to experience the delight and joy and the fun. After all, Christ knew the value of embracing the child-likeness we humans were wired and created to have. He knows that being playful at times, when we are adults, adds to our character. For I know that Jesus was. I know that He must have laughed at jokes, perhaps even said a few, and perhaps even danced during the weddings to music.

So, on Christmas day, I focus on being the Birthday of Jesus. Of course, December 25th wasn't the "real" day He was born, but that's okay. We celebrate it then. So, all the trees, lights, red and green, wreaths, presents, I think of it as decor and part of celebrating God's birth as the man Jesus Christ into our World.

I'm sure Father is not "angry" at we humans if we allow ourselves to engage in some of the festivities. As well, Christmas is a great opportunity to ask the Holy Spirit to help us NOT engage in those things that are really not so good for us, like consumerism, making Santa the focus or an "idol" in a sense, and not focusing on how many gifts is "enough."

But it's a great day to enjoy the season, to enjoy His birth, the lights, the tree, a meal, the green and red and most of all relationships in our life.

Now, Maureen, these are just my thoughts and in no way am I "dissing" you nor meaning to come across as "rebuttling" your post here. They are just things Papa personally has brought me I "thought" about ditching it all, but Father showed me how black-and-white and "extreme" that would be.

Thank you again for sharing the Journey regarding Christmas has been for you. I honestly believe many, many people can relate.

Maureen said...

Hi Amy. Thanks for sharing your journey. Sounds like the Lord has been speaking the same things into your heart as He has in mine. He is gracious to gently show us what really matters. I know I have a long way to go, and not just in regards to Christmas.

Hope your Christmas is glorious in every way.

Anonymous said...

"I am now buying gifts for my husband".

Maureen......may I suggest a brand new Harley Davidson!!!!


Bino M. said...

Great story! Enjoyed it...
Merry Christmas!

William said...

As the church comes under assault increasingly from the most sincere and committed Christian, who are leaving it, a favorite defensive tactic of those who remain, and especially those who remain and gain living from it, is to argue that whatever Scripture does not forbid is okay to proceed with. The simple, and fatal flaw, with that argument is that Scripture makes clear that all concievable conduct under the sun is permissible for believers, but not necessairily beneficial. ("Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. - 1 Corinthians 10:23)

Clearly, Christmas must be understood as a cultural invention as it is not mandated or even suggested by Scripture.

I fear that Maureen's positive memories of Christmas were made possible because Christmas has had the sanction and blessing of Western Culture for hundreds of years. Would her recollections of Christmas - if the holiday existed all - have been so positive if the holiday was celebrated in a culture thoroughly hostile to it? And if culture does become hostile to it - as in criminalizing it (Scripture seems to indicate that someday all public and private Christian observances will earn a death penalty) -, will Maureen persist in observing it? If Maureen can assure herself that observing Christmas is so fundamental to her walk with Christ that she would brave death to observe it, than probably Christmas has some meaning for her relationship with God. If it has no meaning in terms of God's approval in our lives, than why do it?

Maureen said...

Ah touchy subject this. I still am wrangling with it, even after the "festivities" are over.

William, I in no way believe that Christmas is a "religious" holiday that I am somehow mandated to observe. Some years ago, as I said in my post, I stopped every evidence of any observation at all. I boycotted Christmas. In hindsight, I see a distinct attitude of self righteousness in my actions. I am in process, as we all are. Can you say that you are as strongly convicted today over issues as you were 10 or 15 years ago? Grace and revelation is working in all of us. I would never put anyone down who chooses to celebrate the incarnation of Christ with a motive to make His grace and glories known in a dark world. I tend to think that God would be pleased with such a heart as that. More pleased than He would have been with mine as I inwardly scorned those who as Christians went merrily and blindly along with traditions of men that had somehow scooped up Christian sentiment along the way. What began as Pagan rituals has somehow managed to wiggle its way into a universally observed commemoration of the birth of Christ. What we each do with it is a matter between ourselves and our God.