Far be it from us to decry gift giving: Generosity can be a response to the biblical commands to ease the burdens of the poor and the suffering. It can also honor both people and God, as it clearly did when the magi presented their gifts to the infant King of Kings and his family, and when the real Saint Nicholas of antiquity blessed poor families with life-changing dowries.
On the other hand, the splurge of spending surrounding Christmas aimed at our own households and social circles – the modern St. Nick’s indulgence of the already overindulged – rather than toward those most in need is low-hanging fruit for the critics of Christmas, both within the church and without it.
Many Christians over the centuries, aghast at both the extrabiblical origins of the holiday and the excesses that continued with the Christianized celebration, eschewed the observance altogether – Calvin, Knox and even the Puritans, whose Thanksgiving feast we mirrored this week, among them.
While we are far from eschewing the celebration, we urge asking how the holiday might be tempered in each of our lives to better reflect the “good news of great joy” – perhaps by recognizing some unpleasant realities that accompanied the arrival of the Christ child.
As a concept, sin isn’t popular in most Christmas pageants and parties, but the coming of a Savior makes no sense if we have nothing from which to be saved. The cross is as necessary a part of Jesus’ birth narrative as of his death, for he was born for that very destiny.
Beyond that, the unsanitized version of his birth – with taxes and censuses, a crazed Herod’s massacre of infants, Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt – amply reinforces sin’s ubiquity, but those travesties and tragedies get little attention compared to the angels, snow and twinkle lights that dominate our Christmas images.
Blogger Lindsay Stallones writes on evangelicaloutpost.com that amidst all the happiness and light in which we try to frame the holiday, “We need a darker Christmas” to get the real message.
“We needn’t dwell on the darkness, but we need to recognize that we live in the midst of darkness, for it’s only the people who walked in darkness who have seen a great light,” Stallones wrote. “Only then can we distinguish the true light of Christ from the cheap thrill of a string of lightbulbs, and only then can we begin to bring the wonder of that Light to a dark world.”
Only those who recognize the reality of sin in their lives and in the world at large can fully appreciate the gift of One who would save them from it. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2).