The Christmas Trade

Let me start this blog by being completely honest. I wanted to post this on Sunday but just couldn’t get it finished. I struggled with how I was going to write about what Christmas has become, but do it in the right way. In the beginning I had it all wrong. Society’s version of Christmas today made me mad, and that reflected in my writing. The words I used were bitter and not filled with love. God told me there was no way I could post that. What kind of message would that send? Not a good one. See God has no problem with me being upset over what Christmas has become. He does however have a problem when I let that anger turn into bitter writing and a blog that sounds more like a fuming Christian than a loving one. That being said I prayed, God worked on my heart, and together we present to you draft number seven about what’s happening with Christmas today.

 

For many people Christmas is their favorite time of the year. Friends and family come together after months or even years apart. There is laughter, happiness, beautiful lights and trees, good food, and a whole lot of relaxation. Now, while these things do happen around Christmas, they are not the reasons we celebrate. What has happened is we have traded the true meaning of Christmas for the byproducts and traditions and we have begun to celebrate and worship them instead.

 

What does that mean? Well, Christmas literally would not exist and could not exist today without Jesus Christ. It was created as a holiday in the 4th century to celebrate His birth as our savior. That was all it was, a simple birthday party. At the same time, the church needed a way for new converts to be able to bring some of their old winter solstice traditions with them when they became Christians so that they would not lose some of their heritage. So, it took the pagan traditions and shifted their focus away from their pagan roots and towards the birth of Christ. So yes the traditions of Christmas have pagan roots, but they exist now to remind us of Jesus, His birth, and what it means for us in the future. Well at least they used to. People have begun to enjoy these traditions so much, that they have pretty much disregarded Jesus all together. There aren’t adds or movies where little baby Jesus is the star, instead it is jolly old Santa Clause, born in 1930’s Coca-Cola ads who takes center stage. He simply has more appeal, and that is a problem. All of these traditions: the gifts to remind us that Jesus was the best gift of all, the lights to remember the brightest start in the sky that guided the magi, and even the carols which are supposed to spread the word of Jesus’ birth, have become the priorities. We’ve traded Jesus away for a bunch of empty traditions and we have worshipped them by putting our focus on them instead of Christ.

 

How could they be empty you ask? They bring us so much happiness this time of year. Well think about it this way. We always talk about how merry Christmas and the holidays are, but what exactly makes them so merry and jolly? Everyone has a different answer, the people, the gifts, the time together, or even just simple things like the decorations. But what happens when everyone leaves? What happens when the trees and lights come down and the decorations go back in the attic? Does that same happiness still flow through the house? Come March and April do those toys still bring the same level of joy and great big smiles to the faces of those who received them? I am willing to be that the answer is no to most of these questions. Why? Because I have been there myself. I know the joy brought by Christmas traditions does not last. I know the sadness that comes with taking down the tree and knowing that there is school the next day. I’ve experienced a toy becoming no longer fun to play with, it breaking, or me out growing it and giving it away. Those things don’t last. But there is a gift that does.

 

Here is a huge misconception about Christmas: once it is over it means nothing throughout the rest of the year. This could not be farther from the truth! Oh my goodness Christmas has everything to do with everything for the rest of the year and for the rest of our lives! This celebration is more than just the celebration of some important man’s birthday. It is a celebration of the birth of the Son of God. That is God came down in human form with one goal: to redeem man. In other words He was born so He could die. Wait what? Yeah you heard that right. He came to die. Sure Jesus came and taught us valuable lessons, but if that was all He did then He was just a prophet. Man did not need another prophet then, and he does not need another prophet now. He needs and has always needed a savior, and that is why Christ was born. He came born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified dead and buried, and on the third day He rose from the grave. Why? Because we are all sinners. You, me, our pastors, our politicians, our doctors, everyone is a sinner in need of a savior. Christmas celebrates the birth of that savior. Christmas celebrates the day in which God came to earth as a little helpless baby to live in our world and to ultimately change our world. Knowing that should bring joy to Christmas and to every single day of the year. Knowing that we have a God who loves us enough to send His one and only son to die for our sins is quite amazing and should be our focus on Christmas. We’ve been given the gift of a savior.

 

Is trading that worth it? Is the latest gizmo or gadget worth more than the birth of Christ? Now I’m not saying that if you don’t celebrate the true meaning of Christmas you are going to Hell, but what I am saying is that how we celebrate Christmas shows the nature of our hearts. What are we concerned with? There is nothing intrinsically bad with enjoying family time, pretty lights, and great gifts, but if we begin to value those more than we value the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ our savior the new are in trouble. If we worship traditions by giving them too much of our attention, we are in trouble. If we try and take Christ out of Christmas, we are in trouble. I believe that that trouble has begun.

 

As Christians we have not done our job in spreading the true meaning of Christmas. Think about it. How many ads on TV have you seen mention Jesus? How many Christmas movies mention Jesus? How many mall santas remind little children that it is better to give than to receive? (Which by the way that is a bible verse and not some genius concept concocted by man. Acts 20:35) We absolutely cannot sit around and blame the world all we want. Whose duty is it to tell the world about the birth, life, and death of Christ? It’s the job of Christians. Think back to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. After Jesus was born, angels appeared to a group of shepherds, and they told the shepherds that their savior had been born in Bethlehem. Needing no further prompting, the men ran to see for themselves, and what a sight they found. They looked into the eyes of the baby who would one day free man from the bondage of sin. So what did they do next? Well if they had acted like Christians today (and if I’m honest, like how I acted when I started writing this blog) they would have walked the streets and scorned or laughed at all of the people who had no idea what was happening at that little inn down the street. But that’s not at all what they did. They went and told anyone who would listen about the great sight that they had just seen. For them it was so wonderful that they could not help but spread the great news like wildfire. Then they returned to the manger and praised God for all that they had seen and heard. (Luke 2:8-20)

 

We as Christians should learn from the shepherds. Who are we to sit around and get upset that people are trampling over our holiday and trying to take Christ out of Christmas? We are the ones who are letting them. If people want to take Christ out of Christmas it is because they don’t know the glory of the real story. They don’t know that we give gifts as a symbol that God gave us the greatest gift of all, His precious son as a sacrifice for our sins. They don’t know the joy of Christ and how He doesn’t come just once a year to bring joy, but that He is with us year round with that same joy. So Christians let’s go! Let’s stop being offended that people are trying to take Christ out of Christmas and let’s show them why you just can’t take Him out. Let’s not celebrate traditions aimlessly Instead let’s celebrate the birth of Christ and the gift that He is. We know the power of that gift and the salvation that the gift will ultimately bring, so let’s go and share it with the world. Let’s stop trading Jesus for traditions.

 

P.S. If you liked this or know someone who might need it please pass it on. You never know what a simple share and read could do in someone else’s life. Thanks and God bless.

Christmas Music Made Me Cry

I think it was Tuesday morning, definitely around 5:20, as I groggily drove to work, that Pentatonix came on the radio. Now, I had never heard them before so I turned up the volume to hear them for the first time. Turns out they were singing Little Drummer Boy, one of my Christmas favorites. First let me say I was blown away by the talent of the group. I’m not a musician or singer but I love their sound, I was hooked from the beginning, and began jamming in the wee morning hours. However, it was around the middle of the song that I just began to cry. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It was one of those cries that just started slow and all of a sudden I was just driving and wishing I had more tissues. No it wasn’t because Pentatonix is that good. It was because I really began to listen to the words they were singing. Many people they listen to a song and don’t really think much about the words. But I do. No matter how great a song is musically, if I don’t like the lyrics I can’t listen to it. That is why when it comes to songs about Jesus, especially around Christmas time, the lyrics are everything. That is what gets me. That is why the Holy Spirit meets people in the isles of concert halls and the drivers’ seats of cars at 5 am. Lyrics matter. Little Drummer Boy is no different.

I want you to do what I do. Put yourself in the song. Listen to the lyrics and put yourself there. You are a poor boy, going to see a newborn king, and you bring your finest gift, so you are standing at the manger holding the only thing you own, a little drum. It’s probably all beat up and its best day was a long time ago. Yet here you are, standing next to kings who have brought expensive gifts wondering what in the world you are going to do. You look at your drum, you look at Mary, you glance at the baby, and then you just play. The rhythm from your little beat up drum probably isn’t anything special, heck the animals are the ones keeping time. It sure wouldn’t be ranked up there with any of the greatest drum solos of all time, yet it is all you have. Perhaps the three kings look at you like you’re crazy. They’re wondering how you could come with no gifts and only a mediocre song. The shepherds think that even though they stink and stuff, they can at least offer a lamb or something. Then something crazy happens. That little baby in the feed trough, yeah the one who is supposed to be the savior of the world, looks at you and smiles. He approves. What?! No way! How can this be? How can this little boy approve of your meek little gift? The answer is simple. It is because you gave all that you have.

How absolutely incredible is that? I mean step back and take that in. Here is a tiny little drummer who has nothing to offer except his measly drumming skills, and the child of the God of the universe accepts it as if it were a symphony composed by Beethoven. Now I must pause here to say that this was not a true story. Of course it is only a song, but it helps to illustrate an amazing concept presented in the New Testament. Jesus even comments on a similar scenario, when he is teaching in the temple and sees a woman who put everything she had, two mites (about half a cent), into the treasury while the rich were boasting about who had given more (Luke 21:1-4). He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings to God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”  Pretty much she was another little drummer boy. Though she did not know that the savior of the world was watching her, she still gave everything because that is what the Lord requires.

Requires might sound weird there but think about this. Here is the God of the Universe, the creator of everything, and we have to bring a gift for Him each day. We have accepted Christ into our lives and now we’re on fire to live for Him. What exactly does that mean? It means that we follow 1 Corinthians 10:31 and we bring glory to God in everything that we do. Whether we are playing sports or waiting in the carpool line our thoughts, words, and actions should bring glory to God above. So, in practical application that means that whatever gifts he has given us, we must turn around and use them for His glory all of the time. That means if someone has been gifted with money they are not to spend it lavishly, but are to use it to make a difference by donating it, using it to travel and spread the gospel, or any number of other things. There are even people like me, who have been gifted with some level of athletic ability, and have been called to share Jesus with those in the sports world. But see the thing is it is possible to be like the rich men in the temple. It is easy to get to a certain point, say yeah this seems good enough for the kingdom, and then just give a little back at a time. You know just give enough. I don’t want to give enough. I want to give everything I have. I want to pick up my cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). At the end of the day I want to lay down so completely exhausted from glorifying God with my daily life that only a sleep blessed by God will be enough to rejuvenate me.

But sometimes we feel like we’re not good enough. Sometimes we look around at others in the world and think we are just inadequate. Sure we are trying hard but maybe we aren’t finding the success that others are finding, or we think we should be finding. I’m not talking only about earthly success, but also success in bringing others to Christ, shining for Him, and really just living the life He has called us to live. I know that’s me sometimes. I feel like I’m a failure at my life because someone else is succeeding in theirs. I begin to measure myself to the standards set by other Christians and by this world. Too often I look at what others have done, and I feel like I am not worthy to bring a gift. I forget about the poor widow at the temple, and that as long as I am giving to the Lord all that I can then that is enough.  That is what made me cry. To think that even in my darkest times, when life is beating me down and the world says that my efforts to being glory to Jesus are not good enough and that I am a failure, I know that I can look and see Him smiling with pleasure. He knows that I have poured my heart out for Him. He knows that I spent hours and hours working, trying to hone the talents he has given me, so that one day, when the stage is set, I might use those talents to shine His glory for all those around me to see. You see, these talents will probably not be the best talents on the face of the earth. Somebody out there is a better writer, someone else is a better speaker, and even someone else is a better soccer player (well more than just one someone in all of these cases). But you know what? No one else is a better me. No one can glorify the Lord like I can.

We are all a little like that little drummer boy. We are standing at the feet of Jesus with our beat up and seemingly insignificant little drum trying to figure out what to do. We want to give big fancy gifts like the three kings yet we cannot, and God does not expect us to. That drum represents the gifts and talents He has given us. All He wants us to do is use it. It will be rough and awkward at first, but He will guide us and show us how to use those gifts to bring Him glory. He will love it on our best days when the beat is sweet and melodious. He will love it on our worst days when try as we might the beat sounds like a crow’s cackle. He does not expect us to be perfect or to be able to donate as much money as Bill Gates, or impact as many lives as Billy Graham. All He requires is that we give all that we have, nothing more and nothing less. After all, our lives were bought with a price on the cross. That is a debt that we will never ever be able to repay. But what we can do is show our gratitude and appreciation by living each and every day with the purpose of glorifying God in everything. That means giving all of our effort, time, money, and life to furthering the Kingdom of God, knowing full well that we might not ever see the fruits of that labor here on earth, and that doesn’t matter. It also does not matter if anyone else ever thinks we are good enough or what we have to offer God is worth anything. At the end of the day, and at the end of our lives really, the only praise we should want to hear is this, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Then He smiled at me

Pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum