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It seems that Christmas songs once abounded in ages that now seem forgotten. They slipped out of vogue when the modern songs with the chocolaty voices began singing about other features of Christmas, like whiteness, cold, and reindeer. Today the Christmas hymns have turned instrumental in the shopping malls and boutiques. But the airwaves are full of the words of other Christmas-season songs that describe tinsel, branches, and fruity hot drinks.
The essence of Christmas has been replaced with what philosophers call the 'surface-features' of Christmas. The surface-feature of a thing is the clothing a thing wears. It would be like appreciating an antique car simply for its color, not for its vintage. It would be like appreciating your wife, not because of her commitment but solely because she has a nice watch. It would be like celebrating a birthday by enjoying the cake but ignoring the honored one.
It is a delightful thing that in much of the northern hemisphere snow happens to fall in many places and that folks cozy around the fireplace. It is fanciful that hot apple cider is the drink of choice during the opening week of winter. It is nostalgic that sleighs were once drawn out of barns, though today cars are drawn out of garages. These coincidences, however they may be part of the winter season, are not Christmas.
Are these surface-features of Christmas worth the setting aside of a national holiday? Humans in many places have done a fantastic job in exalting in the trivial so as not to be offensive to those who do or do not believe in the real substance of Christmas. Let's build a snowman, comes the anthem. Hear the sleigh bells, resounds another. Let Christmas be white, exclaims yet a third. And the surface features so clothe the proper holiday that the holiday is quickly replaced by secularism and its hollow meaning.
Last year a sign stood placed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation outside the Wisconsin Capital that read, "At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTACE let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."1 The happiness over winter has, in some sense, replaced the joy of a visiting God, and for all the busyness at the malls and on the airwaves, the celebration has become confusing. Is the atheistic replacement of the Season really a call for joyful noises?
Last Christmas, I was privileged to sail on a family cruise in Central America. On Christmas Eve, when many followers of Christ around the world were going to midnight services for quiet and worship, the guest entertainment host on our ship led us through a myriad of secular Christmas-time songs. Frosty's and Santa's songs were in attendance that night, as was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's. "I'll be Home for Christmas" was an ironic favorite as nobody on the ship was actually home for Christmas. I scanned the faces of the red and green dressed audience that evening. The songs fell quietly upon desperate countenances that seemed to say, "Is this all there is?" While those songs are delightful in their proper context, like birthday cakes and candles, these surface-features of Christmas made the celebration that evening feel lifeless, tame, commercial, mechanistic, uninteresting, shallow, and banal. It was like eating a pound of sugar without the substance of the rest of the bakery. In reflection on the atheistic sign in Wisconsin, I wonder how the secularization of Christmas has really offered us anything 'reasonable'?
J. B. Phillips says, "We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago." But many of us have. Sadly, today's secular Christmas is a holiday as substantial as the stuff of tinsel.
How do we peel off the layers of triviality that have encumbered us? To remember we live on a visited planet, which is founded on reasonable evidence and good testimony. This visit, though two millennia ago, is not insignificant in light of the promises that the infant-Child-turned-Savoir gave us. As Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt notes, "We must speak in practical terms. Either Christ's coming has meaning for us now, or else it means nothing at all." Time does not make insignificant He that is Eternal.
There is nothing wrong with the surface-features of Christmas, like there is nothing wrong with a color of a car. But when we equate the surface features with the Thing itself, we end up worshiping dumb idols. The world's heart is already broken. The atheist has not given an answer. The world still needs to see that the surface-features of Christmas are inconsequential to the substance of Christmas.
Let us be deliberate about pausing to look up at the stars. Those are the ones Abraham saw. Followers of Christ are counted with that number. That sky is also where the Magi found the location of the God-Man. Let us also be deliberate to remember, not just the infancy of Christ, but the gargantuan plan of God's Kingdom-the downward mobilization to give us citizenship to a Country that none of us deserve. This is the move, says C.S. Lewis, of the Son of God becoming a man to enable men and women to become sons and daughters of God.
In contrast to the triviality of tinsel, Christ's drama is too interesting to dismiss, too deep to ignore, too needy to forget, and too lovely too miss.
— By Dale Fincher
A publication of Soulation | www.soulation.org
© 2009 Dale & Jonalyn Fincher. All Rights Reserved.