Enjoy Jesus this Christmas
Regular columnist James Knight argues that Christmas is not really a season at all, but a way of living and enjoying the risen Christ.
We’ve all heard someone bemoan the fact that Christmas has become for many a commercial enterprise that severely averts attention away from the Person in whom its real meaning is found – Jesus Christ. It is not as though this obvious fact should have been hard to spot, after all, the clue is in the name --- Christmas. I cannot help but feel a tiny bit sad when I receive a card in which the sender writes ‘Merry Xmas’, but this is illustrative of the deep absence we find in so many people’s Christmas time these days.
I remember reading an essay on Christmas by C.S Lewis in which he takes a critical swipe at the commercialistic values of Christmas. I agree with much of it, and think it is worth sharing here, particularly because if one considers when it was written, it is even more prescient than I’m sure even C.S Lewis could have imagined:
What Christmas Means To Me, by C.S Lewis
Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn't go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a 'view' on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs.
But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone's business: I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.
1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to 'keep' it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out -- physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcome through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?
3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself -- gaudy and useless gadgets, 'novelties' because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?
4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.
We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don't know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I'd sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.
The pop group Wizzard once sang ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’, and I am sure that in the midst of unwrapping presents and enjoying the festive frivolities, many in this country would echo those sentiments. But of course it soon ends; as soon as Boxing Day comes to a close, it’s gone – the shops are open again, many are back to work or out looking for bargains in the sales, and it’s all over for another year – and all the planning, stress and financial cost that preceded Christmas is but a fleeting memory, unless you are one of the many that begin January in debt, and spend the first few months of the year trying to pay it back.
This is not what Christmas is all about – and the irony is, there is nothing about the real meaning of Christmas that requires it to end. One can enjoy what Christmas is supposed to be about for the whole year through; for those who enjoy Christmas for what it actually means, it really is ‘Christmas everyday’.
So aside from the things that blight the Christmas season, what should it really be about? I think the answer is plain but profound; one should enjoy Jesus Christ, celebrate who He is and what He has done for us. What we do at Christmas – enjoy Jesus, celebrate with merriment, get together with families and loves ones, pour out love and grace and generosity, think of those who are most in need, join together in fellowship, share time and food, bless each other, and sing songs is done the whole year through by those who enjoy Jesus.
And this is the paradox behind my Christmas message this year – what we really ought to enjoy at Christmas time is what we can enjoy the whole year through – Jesus Christ Himself – He is what Christmas is all about – and all those wonderful things we do together at Christmas can be enjoyed in a variety of ways throughout each week of the year too. It’s just as Charles Dickens says “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year”.
By all means let us make the most of Christmas time, and do things in the spirit of festivity that we may not do at any other time of year – but let us not make it a chore. Of course, it is nice to buy special gifts for people, but once we forget all about the pressures of commercialism that sully the real meaning of Christmas and start enjoying Christ, we can have the joys of Christmas throughout the rest of the year as well.
Christmas is not really a season at all, but a way of living and way of enjoying the risen Christ. To reflect Him is to have the real spirit of Christmas, for then we can disregard the 'Xmas' (where X is often a stressful and begrudging commercialism) that is forced upon a reluctant and, at present, economically challenged nation by shops, businesses and the media, and embrace it for what it really is; joy in Christ and the sincere and heartfelt wish that others can enjoy Him too.
Christmas shopping image is courtesy of Ben and Kaz Askins
James Knight is a long term contributor to the Network Norwich & Norfolk website and a local government officer based in Norwich. He is also a writer for the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
James blogs regularly at The Philosophical Muser
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