How Can I Enjoy Christmas?
How Can I Enjoy Christmas?
Christmas can be so chaotic, can't it? I mean, this whole season can be such a disconnect between what we expect and what we end up experiencing. That's why the question that always nags us during this time of year is this: "How we can possibly enjoy Christmas?"
What we must do
We all want to enjoy this time of year. We all want to enjoy family, friends, and each other. We all want to have moments of pleasure that remind us that this is a time like no other.
So we grit our teeth. We somehow try to muster up some sentimental Christmas-y feelings, and we draw it out of others. We try to go to a Christmas Eve service with our family to insert some singing and reflection into the mix. We try to recreate what worked in the past and what seemed to deliver in our memory banks. Those are all really good things. Admittedly, some are better than others, but we're all making valiant attempts to enjoy Christmas.
What prevents us
But in spite of our efforts, we always tend to get caught up in the dressings of Christmas, and everything else around Christmas, instead of Christmas itself. Inevitably, we get caught up in the hubbub with the one family member who always brings up that one thing over the meal. We get caught up in the whole gift exchange: who gets what, and how equal it was, and how pleased everyone is. We get caught up with the festivities, the food, the timing, and the decor, like some Christmas-y version of Martha Stewart. Inevitably, we get caught up with the stuff of Christmas instead of Christmas itself.
It reminds me about the story of a woman who was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles, looking for a gift that had sold out days before. Her arms were full of bulky packages when an elevator door opened. It was full. So the occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to allow a small space for her and her load.
As the doors closed, she blurted out, "Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!" A few others nodded their heads or grunted in agreement. Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator, came a single voice that said: "Don't worry. They already crucified him."
That's us, for the most part. So what are we to do? How do we be the sort of people who put "merry" in "Merry Christmas"? How can we actually enjoy Christmas when we've already experienced a measure of chaos already, and even feel on a fast track for more tomorrow? How can there be joy waiting for us on Christmas, and enjoyment therein?
Well, have you ever thought—as Andy Stanley has pointed out—that our chaotic experience of Christmas is why we even have Christmas in the first place? Have we ever stopped to consider that the chaos of our Christmas is the tip of the iceberg for why Christmas even exists? The whole reason we have Christmas to begin with is in part because of what we experience in the chaos of our Christmas season.
How Jesus did it
Think back to Luke 2. Don't let its familiarity fool you so you gloss over it.
(Read Luke 2:1-20)
The imperial edict went out that the whole inhabited world of the Roman Empire was to register. Rome wanted an accurate head count for tax reasons, so everyone was to go to the town of their ancestors to register. That meant Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, because he's from the royal line of David, whose hometown was Bethlehem.
Joseph could have gone by himself to register. But Mary was really pregnant. And by really pregnant, I mean that she was on the verge of giving birth. Even then, Joseph could have left her, but they thought it wise for her to come with him to Bethlehem. Maybe she wanted him there because he gave her strength, or he wanted to be there for what would be the firstborn of his family. So it was all about the family and having a family moment. Or—more likely, I think—maybe they decided Mary should go, because if she gave birth in Nazareth, everyone would have counted and realized that the months from their wedding to their child's birth didn't exactly add up. It was a protective measure for Mary and the child, who would be born the Son of God. So Joseph and Mary make the some-70-mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem—which was only more difficult with Mary being so pregnant.
But eventually, they arrive, and hospitality is hard to come by when they're there. Bethlehem is a small town that was packed out with all the families there registering for Caesar. Hospitality was really only for the very well-connected, or the very important. Joseph and Mary were neither, especially with what whispers were circulating about Mary's pregnancy. So somehow, they land themselves in housing for livestock. Maybe it was a cave, like some traditions say. Maybe it was a stable connected to an inn, like some modern, popular conceptions have it. Or maybe it was a lower part of the traditional house in Israel, because they were already packed out with guests in the upper part, like some scholars believe. Whatever the exact place was like, it was where livestock slept and ate, because Mary laid her newborn in a manger—more popularly known as a feeding trough.
That's how we get to that famous Christmas scene that's been in art and on the front of Hallmark cards. That's how we arrived at the songs we've been singing.
But look! Consider that picture again. That isn't a quaint depiction of peace and tranquility. That's how God initiated peace into our chaos, of which our experience at Christmas is only the tip of the iceberg.
When heaven announced this scene to some shepherds, the angel said this was good news come to our world. It wasn't advice. It wasn't an additional perspective. It wasn't even another religious option. It was news of joy for all people because of what God has done in history and reality by sending that child as Savior, Christ, and Lord.
Then, when all of heaven gave its commentary on the scene, they sang out in celebration, saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, / and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14). That serene scene is no ordinary birth, as happy and evocative as the birth of any child is.
This birth is God's glory come to light, where he was visibly on display in sending Jesus Christ for us. Here we see the one sent to rescue us as Savior, to benevolently rule and reign to bring order to what was out of joint as the Christ, and to be God in the flesh as the Lord. As a result, here we see God's gateway to peace, because this one would heal the connection between people and God. The sin, the muck, the mess that we've made between us and God: This one who was laid in a manger would one day be laid on a cross to pay for it and sweep it away so that peace and wholeness would be left.
Peace between God and me, peace between God and you, would be ours by embracing Jesus Christ in faith and what he did in coming to live the life we should have lived, to die the death we should have at the Cross. Peace has come, and it's right there in a manger. We have it by faith and resting our hearts in him.
So do you see what this means for us to enjoy Christmas? This means embracing Christ in faith forms the basis for enjoying Christmas. Having Christ means we can look at all those serene and happy moments during this whole season and even tomorrow, and we can say, "That's it!" That's a picture of my life with God that Christ made possible by coming at Christmas. There's peace, serenity, and wholeness between me and God, and he's giving me a snippet of it with this glimmer.
That's only an appetizer to the peace, serenity, and wholeness I'll know in eternity, with God and everyone else in his presence. So enjoy those magic, transcendent moments as mere twinklings of what you have in Christ, laid in a manger and eventually laid on a cross, and what will be and more in eternity with God.
But having Christ also means we can look at all the chaos and confusion during this whole season and even tomorrow, and we can say, "That's it!" That's a picture of what my life with God was like without Christ come and laid in a manger at Christmas. And so that's why he came to heal it by also being laid on a cross. That's been swept away from my reality with God, and he's giving me a snippet of what he's swept away by Christ come at Christmas. And what's more, that's the very reality God will completely wipe away in eternity, establishing irresistible peace among everyone—with me included. So enjoy even that chaos and confusion as mere echoes of what has been calmed and stilled between you and God through Christ, and what will be wiped clean in eternity with God.
That's how we put "merry" into "Merry Christmas." That's how we can enjoy Christmas with the good, the chaotic, and the downright ugly.
Steve Luxa is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Davis in Davis, California.