Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but from my best recollection, on the official secular calendar, the Christmas-preparation mindset actually begins when the last Thanksgiving guest has left and the last piece of Tupperware clicks shut on the leftovers, right? (Why wait until the unconscionably-early Black Friday deals?) Once the refrigerator and dishwasher doors are closed, the feeling is something like, “okay, that’s over… I think it went well this year. Now, we can start thinking about Christmas.”
It’s hard to live in America and be oblivious to the Christmas holiday, no matter what your religion. The message (or, rather, some loosely affiliated version of the message) is everywhere. The modern version of the Christmas season (as it’s known in American society) has really evolved as the offspring of religion and capitalism, and given our country’s history, this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Really, when you think about it, combining religion and capitalism could have gone much, much worse.
With store clerks wishing people “merry Christmas”, kids getting excited about new family traditions, and long-distance friends pausing their lives to spend time with one another, I can’t help but view the seasonal joy that Christmas brings – albeit pollinated throughout the country by advertisers and merchants – as a generally good thing. And as long as Christmas is focused on the immaterials (as in, “not material stuff”), it’s hard to criticize the general “good-ness” that the season brings to and out of everyone, Christian and non-Christian.
That lesson seems to get repeated a lot in Catholic and Protestant churches alike this time of year: “don’t focus on the stuff. Jesus is the ‘Reason for the Season’. Keep ‘Christ’ in ‘Christmas’.” And the churches blanket that subject pretty well, so no need for me to try and add to it.
The part I do want to add to is the preparations leading up to Christmas.
(20) Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, (21) nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
You could take Jesus literally in that He meant, “I am God, and I am with you… right now,” but I think there’s also a less-obvious meaning that’s arguably more impactful: if you want to “see” the Kingdom of God, open your heart and welcome Him in.
The Jewish leaders (Pharisees) had been waiting, praying, and sacrificing for the King that would come. But, they had grown so focused on the waiting-praying-sacrificing that their hearts weren’t ready. And when the King came, they didn’t recognize Him.
They had missed their chance to welcome Him, to embrace the Messiah. The Son of God, the one who is to come, the one foretold through centuries of prophecy. Prophesies that these men knew in their heads, but couldn’t see in their hearts.
And they knew the prophesies better than anyone. Maybe in history, definitely at the time. Can you imagine their regret when they learned of their mistake? Here they were, the guardians of 3,000 years of tradition directed by God Himself, and when the time came to take it out of the safe and present it to the world, they dropped it on the floor.
“Oops,” doesn’t begin to cover it.
And never mind failing to introduce the world to God. On a personal note, these guys had the chance to have a face-to-face conversation with God. To ask Him about why the world had unfolded the way it did. To talk about the Scriptures that they knew so well, and Moses and Abraham… and Noah and Adam. To hear, first-hand, how the threads that they had been studying for decades (millennia) were woven into the beautiful living tapestry that is all of Creation. But their hearts weren’t ready, and they remained focused on what they had grown to love: waiting, praying, and sacrificing.
But God, in His infinite mercy, still says patiently, “it’s okay, just pick up one of the pieces. I still love you and want to be with you.”
With the commercialization of Christmas, it’s easy to get stuck on the waiting, praying, and sacrificing of today, whatever that looks like for you. If we do, if our hearts aren’t ready to receive Him, we, too, miss the chance to sit face-to-face with God. To the Christian, Christmas means that God (who, by the way, also created the mountains, oceans, stars, galaxies, all Life, and every single thing in existence or contemplation) is here. Now. To be with us.
And I’ve come to believe that the general “goodness” around this time of year has its fountainhead in the hearts of those who remember that.
If you want to see what it’s like to be part of the source, just clear a little space on the table of your heart and invite Him to come and sit with you. He will.