Just Another Party? – Greg Albrecht

Many contemporary Christmas celebrations and traditions have strayed far from the reason for the season. Jesus is often left out in the cold as many observe one of two opposing celebrations that appropriate his name: 1) a secular Christmas, or 2) a religious Christmas.

A secular Christmas is usually all about eating, drinking, spending and consuming to excess. It’s just another excuse for a party. A religious Christmas is all about doing the right things at the right times in the right places with the right people.

Authentic Christianity offers a third option, one that is neither secular nor religious. The focus of a Christ-centered Christmas is the One whose birthday we celebrate. There is no real Christmas without Christ— he is what Christmas is all about— the party is in his honor.

Christmas is a forceful reminder that our world is not yet God’s kingdom. The Incarnation, the coming of God in the flesh to be one of us, is the fundamental and basic miracle of all Christianity, the birthplace of all of our worship. The coming of Jesus, the child in the feeding trough in the barnyard, signals a reversal of values for our world.

Christmas reminds us that Jesus comes into our world where 18-year-old professional athletes may earn more in one year than the teachers who once taught them in school will earn in a lifetime of teaching. He comes into our world where executives vote themselves multiple million dollar “Christmas” bonuses while the rank and file worker receives a pittance. He comes into our world where success is measured by the size of our homes and the price of our cars. He comes into our world and values none of these things.

He comes into our world where military and big business steamroll and crush the lost, the impoverished, the neglected, the outcast, the vulnerable and the victimized. He comes into our world and values all of these, “the least of these brothers of mine…”(Matthew 25:40).

Jesus comes into our world that is obsessed with self. And both the secular and the religious Christmas are all about us. Both celebrations fail to honor Jesus because the focus is on us— who we are, what we are doing, the deeds we perform, the traditions we observe, what we are given and what we feel entitled to receive. They draw attention to our goodness and generosity and appeal to our egos and lusts.

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher (1813-55) once commented on the perversion of Christian values, saying it is as though someone slipped into the department store of life during the night and changed all the price tags. The things of real value are priced as cheap and insignificant while the cheap and tawdry carry expensive price tags.

Jesus instructed that our feasts should include those who cannot repay our generosity (Luke 14:12-14) so that we may be reminded of our own position as recipients of God’s grace. A secular Christmas without Jesus is a counterfeit Christmas, a Christmas in name only. A religious Christmas without Jesus is often an attempt to do the right things so that God will be obligated to repay us. “Santa Claus is coming to town— he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

Jesus was born in a barnyard because there was no room in the inn (Luke 2:7). Jesus, who voluntarily gave himself, becoming “poor that we might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9) is the guest of honor at many Christmas celebrations in name only, because he is on the outside looking in.

Christmas is not about what we can get from God after we have been good, but it is about the fact that everything we have and all that we are, all of our physical and spiritual benefits come by God’s grace, in spite of who we are and what we do. He gives us the greatest gift because he is good. That’s what a Christ-centered Christmas is all about.
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