I have been working through the Advent book that Desiring God put out this Christmas and have really been enjoying it. It's a doable amount of reading for the day, but it is packed full of truth and insights that I have often overlooked (or completely missed) in the accounts of Jesus' birth. Simeon's prophesy about Christ's life really struck me when I read it again a few days ago.
When Simeon prophesied that baby Jesus would be the cause of the fall and rising of many in Israel he was speaking of us, too. Some will hate him and some will follow him. And while it was abundantly clear at his incarnation that this was true, it's also true in our world today.
We sing of good news of great joy, but we must recognize that this great joy is only for those who have eyes to see. The excitement and wonder of Christmas is just an illusion for those who are blinded to the deity of Christ. That's why it is so serious for those who miss it. It's not just that they have made Christmas too commercial. It's that they have traded the glory of God for a lie. Romans 1 is alive and well in millions of households on Christmas morning. Instead of treasuring the greatest gift of all, our Christ, they marvel and wonder at new gadgets, toys, and stuff that will be outdated in a few months. They worship the created rather than the Creator. As John Piper said, "Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight." Even an indictment clouded by presents, parties, and decorations is still an indictment.
But the danger for Christians is to miss it just like everyone else. While we are no longer under God's judgment and have been given eyes to see the wonder that is Christmas, it's easy to get distracted and forget why we celebrate. Don't get me wrong, presents and traditions are not inherently sinful. Just because we buy presents for our family members doesn't mean we are missing the spirit of Christmas. But it's easy to be mesmerized by everything but the Savior at Christmas time. It's easy to spend more time thinking about our annual Christmas letter, shopping lists, and cookies that need baking rather than quieting our hearts to remember this Savior who came as a baby.
So how do we celebrate amidst all of the chaos of the season? How do we avoid making an idol out of traditions rather than letting our traditions serve to stir our affections for Christ? Noel Piper has this to say about our traditions at Christmas:
"May our decorations, gifts, and festivities--or lack of them--never block our view of him but always point us toward him" (Treasuring Christ in our Traditions, 88).
As Christians, the way we prevent Christmas from becoming just an illusion of wonder is to remember the reason for our traditions. We delight in giving gifts because God has given us the greatest gift of all, Jesus. We enjoy our family because this is another reminder of the precious gifts he lavishes on us. We eat good food and thank him for the ability to taste and enjoy pieces of his creation. These are all good things. What sets us apart from those for whom Christmas is an stumbling block is that we have eyes to see the Giver of all these things. We don't celebrate the stuff. We celebrate the One who makes this all possible. And most importantly, we celebrate the salvation that was secured for us through this little baby born many years ago.