Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Taking Back Christmas

In my childhood back in the 60s, there was always a tension between the sacred and secular sides of Christmas -- between Baby Jesus in the manger and Santa Claus in his red sleigh. My family celebrated both, but we kept them distinct from each other. Christmas Eve was for Jesus, Christmas Day for Santa. Christmas Eve was all about standing in church singing the classics: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Away in a Manger." I can still smell the candle wax and feel the flickering warmth of the flame on my face as we sang "Silent Night" in the darkened church.

Santa left Christmas Eve to Jesus. He waited until midnight to come down our chimney. Then first thing Christmas morning we opened our packages and started playing until it was time to get dressed for church. Mom insisted on separating Baby Jesus from Santa. I still remember a brief trend where some Christians tried to bring the two together by displaying manger scenes in their front yards with Santa kneeling beside the manger. Mom was totally incensed.

Back then, in my child's mind, I must admit Santa was always bigger than Baby Jesus. Christmas carols and the Christmas story were neat, but they couldn't compete with the presents under the tree -- or the great elf that brought them. But ever since I've grown up, I've struggled to take Christmas back for Baby Jesus.

So I put a magnetic manger scene on my car that reads "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." I smile at bumper stickers that say "Put 'Christ' Back in 'Christmas.'" When greeted in the stores with "Happy Holidays," I am careful to respond with "Merry Christmas!"

But I think it's time we go beyond words, bumper stickers, and what we name the holidays. I want to take back the heart and spirit of Christmas for Baby Jesus. And I want to begin with that favorite activity of men everywhere: Christmas shopping.

Like many men, my attitude toward Christmas came from shopping with my dad. He was one of those guys who let mom do all the Christmas shopping, waiting until Christmas Eve to get the only present she wouldn't: hers. He took the day off, then dragged along all five of us boys. I remember observing that among all those last-minute shoppers there wasn't a woman to be found. It was all frazzled men, dashing through the aisles, frantically searching the picked-over shelves, trying to find a present that told their wives, "See, I put a lot of thought into this present and didn't wait until the last minute to buy it!" (Only later did I realize dad actually had thought this out carefully, and he wasn't procrastinating. He took us out of the house so the big Christmas Eve deliveries could be made to our house: the ping-pong table one year, the console TV another, the pool table a third.)

But I digress ....

My point is this: let's start putting some careful planning into our Christmas buying. Let's be more like our Heavenly Father. He so deeply valued His lost children that He made careful arrangements to send His Son to be born in Bethlehem as our Savior.

And let's reflect something of the love of the Christ Child too. He didn't push His way into the best house, or insist on the finest of cribs. He was content to be born in a lowly animal shelter, and laid in a humble manger. Like Him, we can yield to others when that spot opens in the mall parking lot. We can be mindful of His compassion for others when walking through crowded aisles, and when we're waiting in long lines at checkout time. We can patiently wait our turn with a smile on our faces, loving the preoccupied, pushy strangers who surround us -- the same way the Christ Child loved us and came into a world of selfish, preoccupied people to bring His great salvation.

It seems every year Christmas gets a little more blurry in respect to what people really think about it.

What ideas do you have to take this Christmas back for the Christ Child? You can click here and tell us about them.

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