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Celebrating Counter-culturally

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the way we celebrate the holidays. In our family, we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. Either of these holidays can be about consumerism, rather than Holy-day. We give the kids their gifts from us in association with Hanukkah. The original point was to allow us to focus on the birth of our Messiah on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. What we’ve found this year is that the kids just wanted to get to the presents. They wanted us to rush through the lighting of the lights, and whatever else was on the nightly agenda, and get to the presents.

The blessings we use recognize our Messiah, and talk about Him as our light. We really want the kids to understand how the Jewish heritage in my family truly points us to Messiah Jesus. It was disappointing for us to realize that the kids weren’t really paying attention. I’ve blogged previously about our attempt to help them to think of others, but it seems that it fell on deaf ears this year. As I’ve thought about it, Joy and I realize that we’re fighting a battle that the culture is not helping with. The kids hear lots of questions, from store clerks, TV, even friends at church, about what they’re getting for Christmas.

I realized that the early Christians were unlikely to face this conflict. The focus of the holiday (Holy-day) was on worship, and awe that the Maker of all things had chosen to make Himself one of us. Think about that! Amidst the lights, the songs, the Santas, the presents, etc., do we remember the amazing concept behind the season? I think that as long as we allow ourselves, and our children, to think that all of these trapping really have anything to do with Christ, we will never win the battle.

Joy and I have begun to think about how we can do a better job next year of restoring the focus and awe of this season. Less presents. More giving as a family. We really want to take the kids focus off of what we get, and make it even more about how blessed we are, and what responsibilities that gives us. I think we have fallen victim to the lie that Christmas works well as a holiday where we mix the sacred with the trappings of our culture. Who tells us that we need to buy, buy, buy for ourselves? Not our infant Messiah who came as a poor baby in the humblest of settings. Who benefits from this culturally accepted practice? Our culture. Our earthly government. (think about all the sales taxes, etc.)

I am increasingly convinced that we cannot try to combine our sacred beliefs about what is important with the culturally accepted norms. This simply weakens our witness, and diminishes our focus on Him. Sayings like “Jesus is the reason for the season.” fall far short in my mind. The public, cultural, celebration is not based on our Messiah. I don’t think we can really argue about that right now. Stubbornly complaining about this fact does little, except place us in a position of arguing with those we hope to see brought into a relationship with the Messiah we celebrate. Yelling about public nativities and the right to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” doesn’t really do much to win the lost.

Modeling a different focus, one that puts others first, and prioritizes giving to the less fortunate, will say far more than arguments about semantics. If we give to others who could never repay us, that takes away the focus on self, and what we can get. We serve a Messiah who came to serve, not to be served; yet we celebrate by making lists of what we want, and wondering which of those things we will get. The difference in these perspectives is alarming. I think we can do better, and Joy and I will prayerfully look for ways to do this throughout the year ahead.

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In a related note about the sacred/pagan roots of celebrating the birth of our Messiah on 25 December (or 6 January for those in the Eastern church), see this interesting article from Biblical Archaeology about the origins of celebrating when we do. (Hint: the whole thing is unlikely to be simply a jealous attempt to steal a Roman celebration and remake it!)

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