Advent: What This Is, Is a Birthday Party

birthday-partyOne recent evening, Rob and I strolled through sparkling neighborhood streets, sipping hot chocolate, watching kids swarming over Santa in his sleigh. It was a perfect Christmasy evening. Then we caught sight- or should I say scent – of a tree lot in the yard of a huge old church. Lingering in the pines, we heard organ music drifting through the flung-open church doors. We stepped inside and gasped. The organ thundered a Christmas carol while all around us, on the walls and soaring ceiling, were beautifully-painted Bible scenes and snatches of Scripture in Latin.

We took seats, grateful for the beauty and the warmth, near a life-size statue of Mary holding Jesus. It was all so reverent and lovely; it was a Christmas Moment, one of those times when the season presses close to my heart and I feel its deep meaning all over again.

Then to our delight, people appeared near the handbells set up in front. We were going to hear Christmas bells! The group was wearing Santa hats, which seemed a bit out of place for the majesty of the setting. Next thing we knew, the organist appeared – with an accordion – and the group began to play the unmistakable notes of…

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

You know what? It was perfect.

There was a time I wouldn’t have appreciated the sheer delight of the moment. In my years as a young parent trying to keep Jesus at the center of our family’s Christmas, I’d felt the guilt-inducing message of bumper stickers and Facebook posts imploring me to “remember the reason for the season”, forget Santa, and don’t even think about saying Happy Holidays. I wondered if it was somehow “less-than” to sing songs like “Rudolph” or do the whole Santa thing. If the Elf on the Shelf had been around then, I would have wondered about him too.

But I’ve come to my senses. I’ve come to see that if we’re living with God at the center of our lives, it’s almost impossible for us to mess up Christmas. Even the more secular traditions can be – dare I say should be? – part of our celebrations when we’re celebrating with joy.

It’s interesting that we couldn’t get away from Jesus in Christmas even if we tried. If you dig far enough into almost any Christmas tradition, it points to Him. Take December 25. The leading theory is that the early Christians chose this date because it’s close to the Winter Solstice. To the pagan Romans of Jesus’ day, the Solstice was when darkness was conquered by the returning sun. Church historian Dr. Phillip Schaff points out that even pagans can see God in the workings of nature (Rom. 1). So the early Christians sought to redeem this idea that the light was returning to the world by linking it to the real Light who had come and conquered the darkness of sin and death.

Santa Claus, that jolly bearer of gifts, is based on Saint Nicholas, a Bishop of a church in Asia Minor. Legend says that he secretly left money on the doorstep of a poor family in his church. This legend became combined with the idea of the Wise Men and gift giving, so our Santa has roots in the idea of giving gifts to the poor in honor of Jesus.

And the phrase “Happy Holidays”? “Holiday” is a modern spelling of “holy day.” Although we use this term to mean any day of celebration, the original word meant a day set aside to honor our holy God. While the term may have expanded, the literal word “holy” is still contained within it. So whether you tell someone Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, your words themselves honor the Lord.

I believe that, like any good parent, God loves it when we go crazy for His Son. I remember one birthday party we had for our twins. It was awesome. It had a jungle theme and involved throwing sticky rubber frogs at the wall. Imagine if I had sent out invitations which said, “You’re invited to celebrate on Saturday from 1-3. So during that time, we’d like you to sit quietly and reflect on the impact our twins have had on your life. We will not be singing “happy birthday”, as this song is too secular. We will also not be indulging in anything fattening or sweet. No gifts either, because we don’t want to encourage consumerism.”

No. That’s not a birthday party. So why do we think we should act this way at the birth of our Savior? I don’t think we should waste time worrying about whether or not Christmas is too secular. As long as there has been Christmas, there have been people who would like to define how it’s observed, but our job is to live with joy and purpose, honoring God in all we do, and let God sort out the rest of the world. Be assured that God will always see to it that His Son receives glory in the end. Some of this seems hidden to us now, but one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Php. 2:9-11).

God loves it when we honor Him with our joy, with our celebration, with our glee in what He’s given us and the people we get to share it with. Let your delight in the season be your gift to Him, and let your heart rest in that.

for more about Christmas traditions:



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