Last Sunday, in my disciple-making training, we did a little excursion from our normal schedule to think about Christmas. As disciples of Jesus, we should seek to leverage every opportunity to make much of Him, including (or especially) the season of Advent. However, not everything is as “wonderful” this time of the year as we think. For many, it is the most stressful, demanding, and overwhelming time of the year, with challenges awaiting from all facets of life.
On a cultural front, we are constantly hearing news about the culture war, in particular how the tide of our culture is washing away any remnants of Christianity. Whether it be nativity scenes in the square, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” or the marginalization of Christmas carols that have anything to do with Jesus, each Christmas is another incoming tide of secularism in our country.
On a financial front, we are faced with the onslaught of consumerism. Covetousness is the fuel, and our credit cards are the engine. Materialism is king. The season begins with “Black Friday” and ends with bank statements of higher levels of debt. In the end, Christmas, especially for little children, is a season about me . . . and all the stuff that I think I deserve.
On a relational front, we are faced with potentially volatile situations when we gather in close proximity with relatives we usually don’t see throughout the year. Some have differences in traditions and particular ways Christmas is celebrated (or not). For others, debates and arguments may arise over things like politics or other preferences they are passionate about. Or, it could just be the awkwardness of the moments when you know you should be closer to one another than you really are, and you kinda just go through the motions, doubling down on your pretending, and anxiously await the absence of such awkwardness.
On a personal front, we are often faced with frustration and stress. We are busy with more shopping to do, more parties to attend, more food to cook, more people to entertain, more of just about everything. The intensity of the season leaves little room for margin to think about anything else than the next thing you have to do. For others, the personal complexities are filled with grief, sadness, and loneliness. For all the years together and traditions made with the ones you love, they have died, and each little moment brings back the memories once shared together and now seems like a constant stream of tears.
If I could sum up the complexities of Christmas then, Christians are faced with idolatry from within (covetousness) with regular, intensive temptations to identity themselves as a consumer of material goods rather than an adopted child of God. Christians are also faced with the going, going, going of a fast-paced schedule rather than the slow, pregnant anticipation of the coming of the Lord. Christians are today living in a time where cultural Christianity is losing and secularism is winning, and the modern-day Herods are attempting to drive Christianity into the wilderness of obscurity.
If we are not guarding our hearts and lives, we could find ourselves with a disposition of being culturally and politically angry at secularism, financially indebted compounded with stress and guilt (for either buying too much stuff or wishing they could buy more but lacking the means to do it due to reduced income), relationally distant and closed off for fear of conflict, and personally pretending to be happy when there is sorrow or grief in your heart.
When I think of these complexities, I cannot help but think of the role of disciple-making and gospel community in addressing these challenges. For instance, if you are discipling another believer and seeking to model an example for them to follow, then should not the way you spend money be on the table for discussion or examination? If you are making a big deal about whether the department store greeter says “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” as opposed to seizing opportunities to engage the hurting and grieving with the hope of salvation, then should that not be addressed? If you, who has been reconciled with God and are seeking to live in reconciled relationships with others, are intentionally avoiding redemptive moments of humble interaction with estranged family members, is that not something we should be concerned about? All too often we go into default mode, justify our anti-gospel behavior with “that’s just the way I am” phrases, and fail to embrace this season where Christ comes alive in our hearts with life-giving grace.
Instead of simply going through the motions or allowing ourselves to be tossed back and forth by the waves of culture, I believe we should focus on slowing down than speeding up. We should meditate on the Incarnation of Christ, and having consequently seek to embrace and model the humanity of Christ (humble service, unhurried presence, gracious acceptance, etc). We should guard our hearts from idolatry and covetousness and unleash our affections on the hurting, needy, broken, and grieving. We should remember that the real battle is not found in the cultural war but the spiritual war. At a time when many family members and friends are held captive by the enemy, we will perhaps have unprecedented opportunity to shine the light of Christ to unbelieving hearts and see captives set free.
In all the complexities of Christmas, may we remember the simplicity of Christ’s life, who came down from heaven to earth to save sinners and satisfy us with Himself as the greatest gift of all.