It’s always risky to write about the “true spirit of Christmas,” if for no other reason than it’s a topic that has been so frequently tackled over the years, and certainly will be in the days to come. More blogs have been circulating, more homilies delivered, and more Hallmark cards purchased proclaiming that December 25th is not merely a day meant for the eating of fat, juicy turkeys or endless hours of ripping over-priced wrapping paper off of presents containing whatever hot, new item the stores were selling this year. We know this to be true: the true spirit of Christmas lies in the miracle of our Savior’s birth. And yet, with the recent advent (no pun intended) of Black Friday sales beginning on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day to the late night hours stores offer on Christmas Eve itself, there is a consumerist attitude dominating our culture today. The endless preparation for Christmas starts the moment Halloween is over, and the craziness doesn’t end until every possible deal is found, every carol is overplayed, and every gift is wrapped perfectly and placed under the decorated tree.
We all know this consumerist attitude exists and we all seem to have a strong dislike of it. But, there we are, standing in the long line waiting to purchase the coveted items we swiped off the shelf. There we stand ready to max out credit cards, ready to get that gift receipt, ready to feed the beast that is materialistic modern America. The worth of Christmas is now seemingly measured in how much money was spent or saved, in the number of gifts being given or received, and in how many likes our posted pictures receive on Facebook and Instagram.
We have to stop and ask ourselves a few challenging questions: What is the true worth of Christmas? What is the real value and benefit of this joyous liturgical season turned consumerist-shopping nightmare? Are we missing the point? I think we can find the answers we seek in the old English carol, “O Holy Night,” a song piped through shopping malls, played repeatedly on radio stations, and sung at the Christmas service everyone (non-regular church goers included) attend.
The most poignant words of the entire song come in the third and fourth lines. It’s a phrase that catches us off guard, startling the heart and mind. “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining…’til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”
Nestled amongst the lyrical lines that are sung with such beauty and grace, this line is often lost and quickly forgotten. It’s brushed past as the voice raises up to hit the high note announcing “our dear Savior’s birth” or the proclamation to “fall on [the] knees…and hear the angels’ voices…” But it is this very line that defines the entire purpose of Christmas.
Prior to the arrival of Christ, the world was pointless. Christ brought meaning back to the world, brought value to existence once again, value that had been lost through the sinfulness of humanity and could only be restored with the arrival of the promised Messiah.
In an instant, on a cold night in a little stable in Bethlehem, a child is born that restores the proper order of God’s good creation. In that moment the earth gained meaning. With the heavy breathing of a tired, sinless woman and the harried scrambling of a skilled, patient carpenter, Jesus – the Word made Flesh dwelling among us – came into this world. There He was: the King of Kings, the perfect Man who would redeem all men. There was probably a soft whimper from time to time and His Mother rock Him slowly. Wrapped in a piece of cloth, probably nothing more than a simple towel, He was placed ever so gently into a feeding trough.
He had appeared. He had arrived. He had come, and with that arrival, the world – and every soul in it then, now, and to come – found and felt its worth.
Jesus Christ brought to the world the purpose of life: to know, love, and serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God who keeps His promises. He revealed the God of power, making the blind see and the lame walk. He taught man the Truth that satisfies the heart and mind as He gave them His way of life. He showed man the God of redemption and mercy as He stretched His arms across wooden beams and suffered unbearable pain.
It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who brought the world its worth. There is no other point to Jesus: this was His purpose, His task, His mission – to provide for all of us a startling look at the reason for humanity’s existence. While we may think our life’s purpose is to watch our bank accounts grow, our cars get faster, our homes get larger, our friends become more numerous, our earthly possessions become more extravagant…Christ breaks through and shines light on the true meaning of our existence: to know Him, serve Him, love Him, and share Him with the world. It is only when we recognize this purpose of Christ’s existence that we come to understand something about our own: that we are meant for Him just as He is meant for us, and it is only in a relationship with Him that we will find true value and merit in any area of our life.
This Christmas we will be surrounded by decorated evergreen trees with shiny boxes placed underneath. Kids will delight in their presents and families will gather around tables telling stories and reminiscing about the lives they share together. Carols will be sung, gifts will be given and received, food will be eaten, memories will be made…In the moments of this Christmas season, I encourage you to pause from time to time and remember that Christ has appeared. Jesus Christ has arrived, bringing with Him the purpose and point of our lives. He has brought worth to our souls, and that is something to be merry about indeed.