Did you know that today is the fourth day of Christmas? Yes? Maybe? No? If you didn't, don't feel badly. A lot of people don't know. They think either the 12 Days of Christmas is just a song, or that the 12 days are the 12 days that lead up to Christmas. But, historically, in the Church's calendar, the 12 Days of Christmas is the season from Christmas Day until January 5. January 6 is Epiphany (which celebrates the Magi visiting Jesus).
There is so much preparation that goes into Christmas. Buying gifts, getting a tree (real or fake?), putting up lights, extra rehearsals for concerts and pageants, making costumes for pageants, decorating the outside of the house, extra special programming for church, complaining about the busyness and commercialism of the season yet going along with all of it anyway to make sure the kids have fun. We make such a big deal out of something and then are done with it so quickly. The gifts are open, paper and ribbons and bows are strewn about, and we have to remember which day the trash pickup is because it is out of the ordinary. They'll pick up the Christmas trees until the 2nd or 3rd so make sure to have them out on the right day.
We claim that Jesus is the reason for the season, but but we also want the fun of activities. We want to have everything that we want. A few weeks ago Aaron Baart, Dean of Chapel at Dordt College, said in a sermon that we want our "American Dream" and want Jesus to bless it. I think we want that with Christmas too. We want all the fun and lights and presents and parties and then we make sure to throw Jesus in the mix too, so that we can say "oh yeah, we're celebrating Jesus' birthday".
Maybe there should be a different kind of war on Christmas. Instead of complaining about store clerks not saying Merry Christmas or children in public schools not being able to decorate with red or green, why don't we make war on what we have done by turning Christmas into a consumeristic competition?
What preparation was there for Jesus' birth? Not much. While there were certainly extraordinary elements to it, his birth was still very ordinary. It was childbirth--something that happens every single day. We make a big deal about THE incarnation, but when the day is over we forget about the incarnational life of Jesus and the incarnational life we are supposed to live as the Body of Christ. How did Jesus live an incarnational life? How did the presence of God walk around on this earth? What did he do? How did he treat others? What were his goals? Think about those questions. And we must ask ourselves, do our Christmas celebrations acknowledge that or not?
We do not live incarnationally by making laws upon laws for people to follow. We do not live incarnationally by claiming persecution when we hear "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" or see the word Christmas abbreviated to Xmas. We do not live as Jesus' presence in this world by belittling others or by oppressing them.
We live the incarnational life of Jesus when we are completely sold out for him and want to follow his way of bringing about the kingdom of God. We will find this contrary to much of what we find in our American culture, including the Christian culture in which each of us lives.
And I wonder if we are holding on to our fun Christmas traditions and celebrations so much that they are becoming and idol. Are we putting them above the one who we claim to be celebrating? We make ourselves feel good by filling a shoebox or contributing to food pantries. But it is often extra; it's not as if we want to sacrifice our own celebrations in order to give. We do not do a 2 Phillipians and think of others as better than ourselves or give up our power to celebrate. We just keep everything around us the way we want it and add some feel-good compassion on top of it.
What can we do to get out of this vicious cycle? How can we celebrate Christmas more? Right now, today, we are only one-third of the way through Christmas. Everything we did before the 25th of December was Advent. We don't think of Advent as interesting or exciting or fun, just something to get through. In many places, it's not celebrated at all or is just giving a passing nod, because it can be seen as "too churchy".
What if we celebrated Christmas during the actual Christmas season? What if we moved all of our Christmas concerts and pageants and parties to those 12 days of Christmas that we are in right now? Of course, we'd run the danger of it eventually becoming an idol as well, but how can we do Christmas different and do it incarnationaly?