How do we as Christians find a way to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation and the birth of Christ, and yet at the same time be a part of our culture?
We have to know both the culture in which we live and the Bible in order to be faithful. In order to navigate this in our own culture, it might be helpful for us to see “The Holidays” as distinct from “Christmas.”
“The Holidays” are what we as a country enjoy during this time of year. Family, friends, and community and gift giving and feasting abound. The Holidays are fun and enjoyable and anyone can participate. People all over the world have been feasting at the end or beginning of the year for centuries. We live in a culture in which not everyone celebrates a Christian Christmas. But the public “Holiday” time is a happy civic time in our country, of friendship, family, and good cheer. We enjoy this civic celebration along with others in our community.
But I think we should keep Christ and the word “Christmas” distinct from “The Holidays.” This year I saw a sign in Wal-Mart that said “Christmas Layaway.” Need I say more? Christ, the Messiah, the Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace does not sponsor a layaway program so that people can accrue debt in laying up gadgets and gifts. By using him to sell goods, the reality of who he is becomes mixed up with the image of the moneychangers. The last thing we want to do is insist that retailers call this “Christmas.” Let them call what they are doing “holiday” and let the Church keep Christmas!
I think we can enjoy the festive holidays with everyone, while still keeping Christmas as the true Christian feast by maintaining its sacred and holy character in our celebration. In other words, we can set Christmas apart without demanding that our culture do so. I can’t imagine Jesus demanding that people celebrate his birthday, or trying to shut down other festivities. But I can imagine him lovingly calling people to join him at his table, the true and holy feast.
“Christmas” is literally the “Christ Mass.” It is the great Feast of the Incarnation in the Christian Church Year. We, the Church, are called to “keep Christ in Christmas” by worshiping him. Attending worship at Christmas is a great gift of God’s grace to us. We aren’t called by guilt or shame, we are called by love and grace. In this spirit of grace, I call upon you in the name of the Church to gather at worship, or if you are traveling, to take the time to find a place of worship, and to reverence him and rejoice in his coming.
We are also called to feast – to give gifts, to eat and drink and be merry – for the Messiah has come! He is the reason for our feast.
An additional way to set Christmas apart is by marking each of the 12 days through prayer and celebration. We are called, each of us, to meditate on, celebrate, and rejoice in the reality that God became flesh and dwelt among us. The 12 days of Christmas include several feasts, like the Feast of St Stephen the day after Christmas. Following and marking these days helps us to celebrate in a distinctly Christian way which reminds us that we are not of the world, and have our own, Christian way.
Finally, Christmas is a time to remember the poor, those in any need or trouble, and the outcast. The Holidays are a time of depression and anxiety for many, including some of the family we visit, or even ourselves. We are called to reach out to our fellow man, especially now, as an act of worship.
My experience has been that people are attracted to distinctly Christian celebrations. I would even say this is a mission minded way to evangelize. We can enjoy the Holidays, but follow the Christian way as distinct, inviting others to follow Jesus.
So enjoy the Holidays! And keep Christ in Christmas by gathering at the manger to adore him, Christ the Lord.