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Pastor’s Note: A Christmas Confession


I’m on the record for loving everything Christmas – listening to holiday music in November, reading multiple Advent devotionals at the same time, and even watching Claymation Christmas specials on TV. So it took me several trips up and down the garage stairs with bins of decorations, several hours wrestling with the tree stand, and several conversations with my wise wife to realize my “Christmas spirit” was anything but a Christmas spirit.

(Side Note: Is it inevitably true that the “perfect” tree all three girls finally agree on at the Christmas tree lot is never going to be perfect to fit into our tree stand when we get home? The odds of our tree falling at some point in December are still high, and I’m certain user error will have nothing to do with it!)

Anyway, back to the real confession … The criticism that our culture has turned Christmas into a consumer holiday that is a celebration of crass materialism rather than of the coming of the Messiah is certainly correct. I think most of us have become a bit numb to this reality in that even though we acknowledge its existence, we naturally slide right into the crowd spending well beyond what we should on our own wish lists.

But what got me about my “Christmas spirit” this year was the selfishness of the whole thing in my heart. Even when I’m not being extravagantly materialistic, I still want my perfect tree with my perfect apple cider and my perfect family night. I still want all my traditions, all my parties on separate nights, and all my kids enjoying what I enjoy about the holiday season. The list could go on (and certainly includes everyone smiling for a Christmas card picture), but my frustration when I don’t get all these perfect things reveals a deep selfishness that Christmas is to be about my feelings and my visions of happiness.

What a contrast to the actual spirit of Christmas that Jesus displayed (yes, that is what we as Christians are claiming to celebrate). The Incarnation of the Son of God is the most selfless act in the history of the world, the sacrifice of the perfect life rather than the pursuit of an idyllic existence, the intentional giving up rather than the aggressive grasping for more.
I love the way Frank Houghton says it in the great Christmas hymn:

“Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man.”

That’s the true Christmas spirit, isn’t it? Becoming poor rather than rich. Being uncomfortable rather than comfortable. Stooping one’s self to raise others. Perhaps having a heart like that begins with confessing that I don’t naturally function that way. It’s not merely that I need to slow down and avoid all the hustle and bustle of the holidays; rather, it’s that I need to repent and have my heart reoriented.

Maybe it’s not too late to celebrate Christmas that way this year – yes, by remembering and teaching our kids that it’s not all about accumulation of stuff for ourselves but more than that, too. We’re going to focus this Advent season at Southwood on the reality of the Incarnation, on the Savior who came not to be served but to serve and to give up his life as a ransom for many. Maybe we can all set our personal priorities, agendas, and perfect holiday visions aside for a while to worship him and prioritize others. I think maybe then we would actually celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas!