This weekend, Holly and I went to the mall to pick up a couple of things at Target, and it was full to the brim with people. Few places remained in the parking lots, and the mall was packed with people shopping for gifts for family, friends, and even pets. It is amazing to me the amount of stuff that is purchased to give to others as part of the traditional Christmas celebration.
Then yesterday at church, Pastor Chris Little spoke about ways that we can take advantage of the various Christmas symbols that are used in our culture and how we can use them to tell people about Jesus during the holiday season. He spent some time explaining how Christians had taken previously pagan symbols and appropriated them to represent gospel truths, then encouraged us to do the same.
This all got me to thinking about how I could respond to Christmas. It seems to me that there are four different approaches that we can take to the traditions of Christmas:
1. Embrace the traditions without question. That is, just follow the crowd and do whatever your family "usually does" without considering why you do it or what the traditions mean.
2. Embrace the traditions but try to fill them with Christian meaning. I think that this is what Chris was getting at in his message yesterday. This means buying trees and presents and putting up lights but then attempting to use these as tools to share the gospel with our family and friends.
3. Reject the traditions and boycott Christmas.
4. Re-evaluate the traditions and formulate new traditions that flow from your Christian values.
I don't think that it is necessarily an issue of sin to take any of these approaches. I find the first approach to be troublesome in that while the traditions may have value in providing a sense of family togetherness and the warm fuzzy feelings that we all love, it fails to transcend the tradition itself to point to ultimate truth. The second approach may be good, but I wonder how much people really buy into it when we try to tell them that Christmas lights represent Jesus as the light of the world or greenery as representing true life in Christ. And who's to say that the way things have always been done is really the best way? For some people and some contexts, it might work, and at least this is better than the first alternative.
The third option throws out Christmas altogether. This is radical, but I admit that I've sympathized with the Puritans and others who applied the Regulative Principal vigorously and gotten rid of Christmas. You get rid of all the baggage that comes along with the holiday, all the frenetic shopping, the massive investment of resources in what may be marginally fruitful activities. Yet for all the draw of this type of radical simplification, I wonder if doing so would waste a good opportunity to engage in a significant cultural celebration and lose the opportunity to form good traditions.
The option that I lean toward—though I don't know what it might look like—is the fourth. I would love to formulate my own family traditions for the Christmas season that help us fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2), and that position us to be counter-cultural in a positive way. I'm not going to attempt to propose what that might be like for me and my household in this post, but I do want to start thinking about it. What should Christmas really stand for? What would help reinforce that true meaning for myself and my family? How can we make traditions that will be a blessing to our neighbors and point them toward the true rest from the holiday rush?