In the end, Christmas only has one meaning for me. But it took awhile to get to this point.
As a child growing up in a working class family in the cold northlands of Michigan, Christmas was about an inability to sleep on Christmas Eve, too eagerly bucking in the starting gate for the morning to arrive when I would tear into wrapping paper with the ravaging power of a starving wolf. Playing with new matchbox cars on a loop track or Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots or a Detroit Lions toy helmet in the small front room while still in jammies, I just wished this could come more than once per year.
As an adult, I saw another side of Christmas, the rampant spending and acquiring that reaches a fever pitch in the weeks ahead of December 25, of people violently attacking others on Black Friday to save a few bucks on a good deal (FYI, criminal assault is a far worse crime than shoplifting.) It all looked so unseemly and wrong. I tried to see the generosity that some people displayed, but that was mostly by people who were generous by nature throughout the year.
Also as an adult, I was seeing Christmas through a new lens. I became a Christian — a Bible-believing, born-again, Jesus-following Christian, one of those “Jesus Freaks” you might say — as a young man at Michigan State University. That transformed Christmas in my eyes to the point that when our children were young, my wife and I minimized the traditional, culture Christmas fanfare for a more to-the-point celebration. After the kids had gone to bed, my wife would place a doll representing the baby Jesus into a crude wood manger I built and the children would see that first thing in the morning. Then we all went to a local nursing home and walked the halls singing Christmas carols while the kids looked cute and handed out Christmas cards.
No, we weren’t total scrooges. They got Christmas presents and had plenty of excitement. But the real purpose for Christmas was always to be central.
Many Hollywood shows have declared “and that’s the real meaning of Christmas…” when at best, it was just an ancillary meaning. But Hollywood does move the cultural dial, and that means the real meaning of Christmas drifted further and further from the truth — despite the enormous, rolling, ongoing impact of Christ’s entrance into the world.
The real reason Christmas matters to me is actually why I became a Christian.
Christmas ultimately commemorates and celebrates the entrance of the eternal God of all that is seen and unseen into the swirl of time and space, a God who is Spirit and love into a world of flesh and violence, a God who became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the birth of the man-God who came to show us the Way and the Truth and the Life for all humankind.
Christmas matters to me because of Jesus Christ.
Rod Thomson is an author, TV talking head and former journalist, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act.
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