As I write this I am sitting in my living room and staring at our family Christmas tree. It is always a fun family adventure to put it up and decorate it. We believe in real trees in our family. When I was a kid, that meant trekking through the woods to chop one down. As an adult it has regularly meant that I just buy one. To be fair, the trekking part has been replaced with finding the best deal and when I have the chance I prefer to keep my money local. This year’s tree was spotted while my wife and I drove past a local farm stand. I borrowed some string from them (in true Christmas fashion) and strapped it to the roof of our SUV. Now it sits prominently in our living room and under my wife’s watchful eye has been painstakingly decorated. It is beautiful, a nice full fir tree. The white lights and multiple colored balls glimmer in the evenings when it is plugged in. I enjoy staring at it and it warms my heart in many ways.
While I love to look at my Christmas tree, it also serves as a reminder to me in many ways of the tragedy that Christmas has become. That fir tree is beautiful, but it was beautiful before it got chopped down, before I lugged it into our living room and before we decorated it. That tree is one of God’s creations. I have enjoyed many others like it during walks in the woods or drives down country roads. It is beautiful in its own right. I suppose you could argue that we have made it even more beautiful by decorating it, but maybe not. Maybe we have just covered up its natural beauty with man made objects. Now please don’t think I am some sort of Scrooge or that I am against Christmas trees. That is why I started off telling you how much I enjoy mine, but I believe it is a good analogy for this holiday season as a whole.
You see Christmas is beautiful in its own right. The story of God coming to earth as a child to ultimately accomplish the salvation of all of mankind is incredible. The way it happened is incredible. What could be more amazing then a virgin being with child or hosts of angels appearing to shepherds in the fields in order to declare the birth of the Savior. It ought to bring us incredible joy, make us weep, and fill our hearts with thankfulness…….but for most it doesn’t really do that anymore. That is because Christmas and the Christmas story are like that fir tree before it is cut down and before it is decorated. Christmas is beautiful in its own right. The problem is that we live in a society that has literally spent generations covering it up and decorating it with man made objects.
The list of the ways we have covered up the true wonder of Christmas seems endless. The most obvious is that a fat man in a red suite has replaced the babe in the manger. Why? I believe the answer is simple. Santa Claus is easy and does not force introspection. To consider the Christ child is also to consider his brutal death on the cross and wondrous resurrection. It is no coincidence that the two days a year that our eyes should be turned to Christ the most, he has been replaced by a jolly old man who gives children toys and a giant bunny that hides eggs. Acknowledging the birth of the Christ child is an acknowledgement of the fact that we are sinners and that we need saving. That is hard, but more than being hard, it is necessary. Santa Claus offers no challenge, no insight into our spiritual state. He is comfortable and simple and society eats him up as a distraction from anything of real substance or meaning.
We don’t like to be shown that we are sinners. It pains us to see the reality of who we are and of our nature. James is probably my favorite book of the Bible because of its blunt practicality. James 1:23-24 says, “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” Why does the man in James so quickly forget what he looks like when he looks in the mirror? He forgets because he wants to. He forgets because he doesn’t like what he sees. James goes on to tell us that the mirror is the Word of God. We read it, and because we don’t like what it shows us about ourselves we choose to forget. In case you might have forgotten, the Christmas story is part of Scripture. Society doesn’t like what it says about us, and so it is easier to ignore and to offer some other option: a cover up.
This is the season of distractions. At a time when we believe our eyes should be focused on God and on family, we are busier than any other time of the year. Even gift giving becomes a tedious chore sometimes. It is easy to bury the real meaning of Christmas in the layers of fluff that society has created. Let me encourage you to scoop off those layers and get down to the real substance. Shovel them off, like the snow that covers your driveway this time of year. Take some time to view the natural beauty of the Christmas season and of the Christmas story. The other day I found myself simply reciting the well known words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That is the real reason to celebrate. All the other things will leave you feeling empty and disappointed.