Attaching Christmas to Its Roots

by Dave Miller on December 16, 2012 · 6 comments

This is a Christmas meditation from my archives. Enjoy. 

Celebration of Christmas at the Miller house officially begun last night.  I put lights on our Christmas tree and the season has begun. I have two strong convictions about the Christmas tree.

1)  The Christmas tree must be real.  For some reason, people get offended when I say this, but “artificial trees are for artificial people.”  Why would that offend?  I can’t imagine.  But I want Fraser Fur needles dropping on the floor and the smell of pine throughout the house.  So what if it triggers allergies?  Sacrifices have to be made!

2) The Christmas tree must have so many lights on it that it throws a circuit!  One year, on our 7 1/2 foot tree, we had 1400 lights.  Add strings of lights until the thing becomes a fire hazard, add three or four more strings, change the fuse, add one more and you are ready to go.

Oh, and by the way, none of those blinking lights or that one-color nonsense.  Multicolor lights that blaze bright all the time.  I’m pretty strong on this folks – no arguing!

And there are three movies that are essential to any Christmas celebration.  First, A Christmas Carol – the George C. Scott version.  All others fall short and pale in comparison.  Patton as Scrooge – predestined for greatness.  Second, you have to watch George Bailey battle Mr. Potter (Henry, not Harry) and discover that he actually has a “Wonderful Life.”  Then, on Christmas Eve, you need to tune in to TBS and watch little Ralphie scheme to get his Red Ryder rifle without shooting his eye out.

Life has changed in the last few years.  All three of our sons are married now and our daughter is off at Cedarville.  My two sons who have given me grandchildren (the two cutest EVER) live so far away we won’t be able to see them at Christmas.  But I still love Christmas.  I’m looking forward to foraging through the barren shelves on Christmas Eve looking for something to give as a gift.  The toys get more expensive.  Family gatherings are a logistical challenge.   But I still love the Christmas season and all that goes into it.

But the celebration of Christmas in America has taken such a strange turn.  I remember my grandmother speaking wistfully of the Christmas of her youth, when her only gifts were a peppermint stick and perhaps a hand-carved wooden toy her father made.  She remembered the celebration of Christmas as a time of wonder and joy – without Black Friday, credit cards or online bargains. Things have changed.  Our culture has disregarded the birth of Christ and elevated the jolly old guy in the red suit to the status of a god.  We have turned Christmas from the worship of the baby in the manger to the worship of Mammon, god of money.  We spend thousands of dollars in homage to the power of materialism and greed.  Christmas is a bacchanalia divorced from the meaning it once had.

Even our efforts to “keep Christ in Christmas” have become odd at best.  Sometimes, rather than just celebrating Christ, we devote ourselves to fighting “the war on Christmas” and aggressively challenging those who say Happy Holidays instead.  Has our celebration of Christmas really been reduced to being offended when someone wishes us well but does not use the proper words to do so?

Even Christians often do not realize the theological roots of the celebration of Christmas.  I am afraid that many, even in the church, have failed to understand the true meaning of Christmas and have not celebrated it in a way that honors God.  We need to explore the theological underpinnings of Christmas – not just what was going on in Bethlehem, but what was going on in the mind and heart of God.  When we understand that, we will see more clearly how to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Three Levels of Christmas

My beloved Christmas tree serves as a great illustration of the three levels of the celebration of Christmas.  Millions never get beyond level 1.  Many Christians get stuck at level 2.  We need to move on to Level 3 and understand “the real meaning of Christmas.”

Level 1:  The Ornament Level

The ornaments hang on the outside of the tree.  They give it pizzazz.  They are flashy and fun and beautiful.  Sometimes they are garish and crass, as well (not mine, of course).  Many Americans never get beyond the Ornament Level in their celebration of Christmas.  The ornament level involves trees and presents and eggnog and mistletoe – the fun, light side of Christmas.  The Jolly Old Guy in the red suit is an ornament, as are Rudolph and Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and…well, you get the picture.

Christians are divided over how much of the Ornament Level of Christmas that we should celebrate.  I enjoy the celebration of Christmas, but some Christians are offended by the secular side of things.  Follow your own conscience on this one.  What we need to realize is that while ornaments are fun, they are not all there is to the celebration of Christmas.  We need to go deeper than simply enjoying the ornaments and decorations of Christmas.

Ornaments and lights do nothing if they are kept in the box.  You need to have something to decorate, something to hang the ornaments on.   You need a Christmas tree to display the ornaments.

Level 2:  The Tree Level

Christmas is not just about myths and legends.  It is a real story about the real birth of a real baby.  The Tree Level is the structure on which the celebration hangs; the story of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, the historical foundation of the celebration of Christmas.  Whatever kind of ornaments you like and however much of the Ornament Level you celebrate, it is crucial that we hang the ornaments on the tree.

We need to be careful to focus on Joseph and Mary and the Baby (the biblical story, not the multitudinous myths that surround that story), the shepherds and angels and wise men.  They remind us that God sent His Son into this sin-kissed world to demonstrate His love.  It is a powerful story.

I love the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, of George Bailey, or of little Ralphie Parker and his Red Ryder air rifle.  But there is no story more powerful than the story of Jesus Christ invading this world of darkness to shine the light of God’s love and we need to keep this story front and center during our celebration.  It is the tree which supports the entire celebration of Christmas.

The problem is that some people believe that taking a little time to look at a Nativity scene or remembering the details of the Christmas story is the “real Christmas.”  It is not.  For Christmas to be real, it must go deeper.

You see, there is a problem with my tree.  When I bring it home from the store, it will be fragrant and fresh.  But in a few weeks there will come a day I call “The Day of Great Evil.”  My wife (I refuse to participate in such wickedness) takes the lights off the tree, puts the ornaments in the boxes and then tells me its time to carry the tree out to the Christmas tree graveyard in a stand of pines, joining the rotting remains of the Trees of Christmas Past

The problem is that my tree has been severed from its roots.  It only lasts a season because it has been cut off from the source of life.  That is what happens when all we focus on is a cute little baby in a romanticized manger two millennia ago.

There has to be more than that.  Good news – there is!

Level 3:  The Root Level

Why can’t the celebration of Christmas last into January and February?  Because we have cut it from its roots.  We need to explore the roots of Christmas and reattach the celebration of the season with the deep truths of God’s sovereign purposes.

The Root Level of Christmas is the theological truth and purposes behind what happened in Bethlehem.  At this level, we are not so concerned with what Joseph or Mary is doing, but what God is doing.  The roots of Christmas are in Heaven, not in Bethlehem or Nazareth.  When we understand the activity of God, the meaning of Christmas comes alive and we come to understand how to celebrate it rightly.

As we celebrate Christmas, we need to reattach it to its roots – the gracious activity of God in this world.  What are those roots?  I don’t have time to explore them, but let me mention a few I think are significant.

  • Christmas is WAR!  It was D-day in the divine plan of redemption, as God came to confront sinful humanity, provide atonement for our sins and justification for sinners.  What God planned from eternity was put into effect on Christmas.  You must see the cradle in the shadow of the Cross.
  • Christmas is about forgiveness.  God decided not to leave us in the darkness of our sins, but to shine the light of glory on us in Jesus Christ.  Not only are we forgiven, but we must forgive.  Want to celebrate Christmas?  Forgive someone who has hurt, offended, abused or betrayed you!
  • Christmas is about God’s mission.  I love that we promote the Lottie Moon offering at Christmas.  Jesus came on a mission.  We are called to participate in God’s mission of redemption in this world – through Jesus Christ and the blood shed on the Cross.

There is so much more.  But the challenge is to make sure that our celebration is not limited to the shallow engagement in “The War on Christmas” or a simple focus on the Nativity story.  These have a place and are needed.  But we must make sure that our celebration of Christmas is rooted in the activity of God.

When we do, the celebration never ends.

1 Bruce H. December 16, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Our world affects Christians. I like what you have said, Dave. I think we must center our activities around the Christmas Tree with the truth about Christmas. Every SS class or church that has a Christmas party would benefit from a side focus on the birth of Christ like you have said. I wish our teachers would reinforce that truth every year. Our world is teaching us that Humanism is similar to the morals of Christianity. Our people need to focus on the Truth.

Great Post. Amen.

2 Christiane December 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm

“You must see the cradle in the shadow of the Cross.”

To do this, it may help to keep Christmas with a time of ‘preparation’.

In our Church, we keep the Advent Season, which most definite is a time of reflection on the reason Our Lord was born.
Our Advent is a sometimes called ‘the little Lent’, because it points to the Cross. But then there is a moment, a Sunday set aside for ‘joy’ which points also to the Risen Lord, in Whom we who have been given ‘second birth’ will one day also rise.

But if a formal Advent is not a choice, there are many faith-filled ways to call up the ancient Scriptures and follow the story of the yearnings of men for salvation in the Old Testament. Isaiah is sometimes called ‘the fifth Gospel’ wherein we see the prophecies and longings of the old ones.

I love this Scripture in St. Luke that expresses one personal fulfillment of that longing so beautifully in the words of Simeon:
“25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law,
28 then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to Thy Word:
30 for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation,
31 which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people ”
(from the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 2)

And in our preparation, we also recall our own waiting for His Return among us . . . Maranatha,
waiting in hopeful anticipation for the Lord of Life to come once again among us :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-9s_oG4W9U

3 Greg Harvey December 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I believe the symbolism that has accrued around Christmas reflects a broader, “secular” view of Christmas. It isn’t unlike President Obama’s use of scripture during his words at the ceremony last night. The words are comforting because they point to a God who cares. But they don’t seem to be broadly applicable. They seem limited to those who believe.

Similarly, the tree isn’t rooted in scripture except to the extent that you conflate an evergreen with a bare cross. For me it’s a stretch. But I’ll confess that it always bothered me that the poor Christmas trees–the live ones at least–had no roots. This piece at least addresses that shortcoming with an exposition of meaning.

And lest we forget, we are grafted into the root. We are adopted. We are not original heirs. But we are joint heirs now. The promise of Christmas is–in a way–to return to and enjoy the innocence of childhood eternally while also having matured emotionally and spiritually.

I read the Bible as saying that once we’ve “crossed the River Jordan” (my simplified way of speaking to the final transformation), we won’t ever have to deal with the depravity of sin ever again. I can’t even imagine the world that will be. I can’t even imagine it for my own sake–how I will be changed and finished–much less for others. But every Christmas that promise is renewed as we remember the great gift that led to the great sacrifice.

I told everyone that one of my favorite things is to discover a new example each Christmas of a child who quotes from Luke 2. This one was from a 2005 album but I really hadn’t taken it in previously (my wife ripped it to iTunes Match and I found it on my iPhony today). It features Shaoey Chapman (Stephen Curtis’ daughter). Please listen ESPECIALLY to the shepherds’ reaction:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHyEfhS95T8

4 Greg Harvey December 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Steven Curtis more accurately…

5 Dave Miller December 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Didn’t Steven and Shaoey used to sing duets?

6 Greg Harvey December 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm

That album closes with “we wish you a Merry Christmas” as a duet. I can’t speak for since then. I’d guess she was five or six at the time of the recording. She’s probably a little older now.

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