Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
Here we are, fast approaching another Christmas. As you prepare to celebrate Christmas, ask yourself what Christmas means to you.
Christmas can be considered to impact our society, and ourselves, from three different areas. Most of us will participate in one or two of them, while some of us will participate in all three. Be warned: If you choose to delve into all three, you may be worn out before the great Day arrives.
The first area has to do with the commercial aspects of Christmas. For the most part, Christmas has become known as the vehicle that props up the bottom line of our retail commerce.
Reaping their fair share of the holiday dollars can make or break a company’s profit margin. Twenty-five to 30 percent of annual retail sales can be attributed to shopping for Christmas, and so we are encouraged to buy for the good of the economy — a sort of “personal economic stimulus,” you might say.
Sadly, most of the items purchased are unneeded, and many go unused. But, we buy them nevertheless because they are expected; to forgo the annual tradition may earn you a more unwelcome scrutinizing than an audit by the IRS.
By the way, most all of this has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, or His birthday. Almost none of this is given to Him, and little has to do with celebrating Him, which is somewhat strange as Christmas means “Christ celebration.”
I have nothing against stimulating our economy, and it is fun giving our little ones the things they need and want. But I can actually do that more efficiently during the rest of the year, with a lot less stress. Plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about what to give Eggburt in return for that green and purple bow tie. (I don’t even wear bow ties.)
The second area having to do with Christmas is that of celebrating, or getting together with family and friends. This ranges from greatly anticipated gatherings with those whom you truly want to spend time with (although you feel you could do without Uncle George, but it is a package deal) to the obligatory company or organization parties.
You really don’t want to go to those, but you know that the absence patrol will note who fails to attend, and without a note from the doctor for the black plague, you know your absence will impact your career or participation for the next decade.
It is not that celebrating with loved ones and friends is bad. But one may ask, “Exactly what does all of this have to do with that person they call Jesus?” If you want to celebrate, then celebrate. Just don’t blame it all on “what’s His Name,” the One who never gets invited anyway.
The last area is that of Christmas being a “religious celebration.” If you are born again, it is my hope that you do desire to celebrate the birth of Christ with other like-minded Christians.
Part of the problem you may encounter though is that participating in the other two areas may leave you too little time to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, or their demands may so drain you that you have less enthusiasm about celebrating the event that all of this is supposed to be about in the first place.
May I offer some advice? Keep first things first. Determine what it is you want to celebrate and focus on in regards to the birth of Christ; hopefully that includes the “new birth” Christ gave you when you put your faith in Him. Then realize what that celebration will involve, and secure those things in your calendar. Next, make it clear to one and all those things are your priorities at this time of year.
This may require not acting on some of the expectations of those around you, as well as changing where you choose to focus your resources, but it will better enable you to celebrate your Lord. Some of your acquaintances may frown at you for doing so, but they probably did that when you first chose to become a born-again Christian. (Is there truly any other kind of a Christian?)
People talk a lot about taking Christmas back, but that can really only be done one heart, or one family, at a time. So honor your Savior in ways that you believe will be pleasing to Him. Remember that it is His birthday, and even invite others to join you in your “Christ-celebration.” They may have to squeeze you into their faster-than-light-schedules, but I’m confident they will be blessed if they do.
You may still end up choosing to do some of the things in the first two areas, but just make sure they do not infringe upon that which is most precious: Celebrating Christ at this time of year, as well as throughout the year.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.