Monday, November 27, 2000

The Surprising Truth About Christmas

My wife, Sheila, did the unthinkable last week – she went shopping the day after Thanksgiving. It’s not that she really wanted to. Being a good mother, she went to get those perfect Christmas gifts for the kids at extraordinary prices. So at 6:30 am (as in the morning) she braved the crowds (yes, crowds at 6:30) to shop. It was awful. Lines and rude people were every where buying gifts for people they don’t even like. She did battle at one location of a national electronics store chain for an hour and then waited in line for half an hour. Only to be told when she was one customer from the checkout, "Put your stuff down and leave the store. We must evacuate because of a gas leak." Moans and groan everywhere. I think some of those people would have rather risked death than put down their prized purchases. All those wasted hours of elementary school fire drills.

Sheila finally did make it home safely. "I don’t think this is what Christmas is all about," she commented to me in frustration. " And I will never do that again!"

No, that is not what Christmas is all about. Nor is it what we most often picture in our minds. We know it is not elbowing other people for the last Pokemon pillow, but have we fooled ourselves with other wrong, but seemingly benign, thoughts of Christmas? How would we describe the perfect Christmas? See if you recognize this… as you pull into the driveway of the perfect Christmas, icicle lights hang from the roof, Santa is perched in the front yard to the right and snow is lightly falling. The air is crisp, but not cold. You are greeted by smiles all around. Even the family cat is grinning. The fireplace throws warmth and light into the living room decorated in reds, greens and whites. A perfect tree stands in the corner surrounded by the perfect number of presents. You enjoy a perfect meal with all the people you love and then exchange presents as Christmas carols fill the room. Everybody gets along. All the children and elderly cooperate. Martha Stewart couldn’t do it better. But that is not what Christmas is all about. That is what we Americans think of as Christmas. Family, food, emotional warmth, giving, decorations, music. All of it good, just not really what Christmas is about.

Christmas is about war. Now wait before you hit me or the delete key. Hear me out. Christmas, from the very first one when Jesus was born in a barn, has been about war. Jesus came that first Christmas night as an invading force into Satan's territory. God knew it and sent an angel choir to announce victory to the human captives. Satan knew it and immediately launched a counter attack through Herod to try to chase the advancing enemy away by killing the Christ child. Joseph and Mary knew it. They were told of the danger Jesus brought to them. He disrupted their lives and they could never be the same.

Jesus did not come to provide warmth and glow and television specials that make us feel good and cry at the same time, to let us have Christmas eve candlelight services that create emotional memories, to fill our homes with wonderful gifts from others, or to enjoy wonderful meals. Again, those are not bad, its just they are not Christmas. Jesus came to declare war on the Prince of darkness who rules this earth and thus set us free. Christmas was the first phase of the battle plan that eventually led Christ to the cross.

So why celebrate Christmas? Because it marks a love so big that God was willing to send all He had to free us from captivity to Satan. Satan’s plan was to kill, steal and destroy. It still is. But God’s plan is bigger, better, and victory is sure. He revives the killed, returns the stolen and rebuilds the destroyed. And He SETS US FREE! It all began at Christmas. THAT is why we celebrate. THAT is what Christmas is REALLY all about.