The Heart of Christmas
Picture a Christmas tree with presents beneath. If we were to search through the boxes trying to find the true heart of Christmas, what would we find?
Imagine grabbing the first box you see. This present is wrapped in cute wrapping paper covered with images of shopping bags.
This present represents the commercial aspects of Christmas: Black Friday, shopping at the mall, Christmas advertising and Christmas catalogs coming in the mail. You know the commercials that show a wife getting the perfect luxury car with a big bow on top. Or the incessant advertising to the kids that convinces them the latest toys will make their lives complete. No matter what you think about Christmas, we can probably agree that buying presents is not the heart of Christmas. If all we do at Christmas is participate in the commercial aspects, we are sure to miss out on something more special. The box, when opened, is empty.
So, we look for another gift under the tree. This gift has Santa Claus paper. Chubby Santas with long beards cover the box.
This gift represents the secular celebration of Christmas. Christmas movies, polar bears in red hats, snowmen, and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special all make up an aspect of Christmas that helps us celebrate the holiday, but is not the heart of the holiday. Some Christians reject this category of celebrating altogether. Others try to keep it in perspective and balanced. Either way, we can all agree that the secular aspects of celebrating Christmas are not the heart of Christmas. When opened, this box is full of confetti. Fun but ultimately without purpose or substance.
Looking under the tree again we find a third present. This box is wrapped with Christmas tree paper, every tree filled with ornaments and stars.
This box represents the work we do at Christmas. We build gingerbread houses, host parties, make homemade gifts, cook, decorate the house, bake dozens of cookies. In general, all these things are valuable. They can reflect a spirit of generosity and hospitality. But they take up time and keep us moving at an extremely high rate of speed. They also can be distracting if our goal is to get to the true heart of Christmas. This box is full of tissue paper, layers and layers of tissue paper. Thin and pretty, the tissue paper fills the box, but ultimately has no substance of its own. It rips easily, becoming useless in just seconds.
We must keep looking for the heart of Christmas under the tree. Another box catches our eye. This box is covered with beautiful shiny paper with images of flying doves.
The doves represent peace and harmony. This box reminds us of the good deeds of Christmas; the ones we do to make the world a better place. We donate money, serve at a homeless shelter, buy presents for needy children. We are more inclined to let a driver cut in front of us or to hold the door for someone behind us. Our good cheer puts us in a magnanimous and giving mood. These acts of kindness or generosity are wonderful and they remind us to be thankful for what we have. Being generous or serving in some way can point us to the heart of Christmas, but the activities themselves are not the heart of Christmas. Inside this box is a pile of receipts. Receipts keep track of what we have spent, what we have given. When we look at the receipts, we find ourselves patting ourselves on the back for all the good we have done for God and for the world.
Looking again under the tree we see a fourth package. Maybe this will be the one that shows us the heart of Christmas, that will fill our hearts with joy and peace. The paper on this box is covered nativity scenes.
The characters are tucked under a cozy barn scene with clean hay and quiet, calm animals. This box represents our participation in Christmas activities like church services, advent candles, sending religious Christmas cards. The nativity scenes remind us of the need to celebrate a religious holiday. I must admit that I have sometimes stopped looking for the heart of Christmas on this level. We desperately want the world to acknowledge and know that Christmas is a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ. We are easily offended when someone wishes us “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We want nativity scenes to be allowed on public property.
But is that all we want for the world around us and our neighbors? Do we just want them to acknowledge our Christian holiday, or do we want them to encounter Jesus, the Savior of the world? I’d like to challenge you to go deeper this Christmas. Try not to get upset or offended and instead see people all around you who need Jesus. The religious celebration of Christmas is certainly important, but I think we need to look deeper still to find the heart of Christmas. When we open this box, we find a mug with Merry Christmas on it, a bookmark with a verse and a key chain that says “Jesus is the reason for the season.” They are all fun and useful things, but they aren’t the heart of Christmas. We must keep looking.
Another box is tucked away under the tree. This one is plain brown, with no wrapping at all.
No glitter shimmers on it, no foiled paper glows, no bows decorate it. This box is easy to miss. It sits quietly among the shiny, cute, and busy wrapped boxes. The brown cardboard represents the historical event of the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to a poor family that was travelling far from home, staying in a smelly barn, in a most ordinary way. That event was real, human with all the messiness of giving birth. God, the creator of the universe, sent his son to become a man. Being all God and all man, he was perfect and able to offer us forgiveness for our sins and access to a perfectly holy God. His death on the cross was a grand rescue plan. It really happened. Here we think we have found the heart of Christmas. Here we are sitting among all the distractions of the other boxes and paper, reflecting on the birth of Christ. But we must open the box. Holding the box represents knowledge of the facts. James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” Believing in the historical birth of Christ is wonderful. But believing it requires a response.
Imagine opening the box. As the flaps fold back you see that the box is full of light. The light is shining on your face as you hold the box. The open box represents a relationship with Christ. Knowing the historical facts is great and important. Now it is time to let the reality change your heart. Let the warmth of the light move your heart and mind and draw you closer to Jesus this year.
Consider the following questions:
a. Is your Christmas defined by one of these other layers?
b. Do your actions at Christmas time flow out of your relationship with him or are they an effort to gain favor with him?
c. Does all the rest fade away in comparison to the light He brings to your life?
d. While the Christmas season can still be a difficult time because of our circumstances, could this understanding help us survive the tough ones?
Let’s allow the light of Christ to transform us this year.