Sunday, December 28, 2014

My 33rd Christmas

      Why do we celebrate Christmas? Where do these holiday traditions come from?  Why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus when the bible doesn’t tell us to?  These are the questions I found myself asking as the Christmas holiday neared this year. After all, this is my 33rd Christmas so it's probably time I figure this out. (Ironically 33 was the same age as Jesus when he was crucified)

         In America Christmas has become super commercial.  People fight in stores over toys and electronics shortly after devouring a giant meal and talking about what they are thankful for. It has also become a giant controversy because of 2 little words that come off as offensive.  We say "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" so we don’t offend anyone but then Christians get offended cause you didn’t wish them a Merry Christmas (eish).  The meaning of Christmas gets lost in all the commercialization, materialism, arguing, and fighting.

In South Korea, Christmas isn’t a big deal.  In fact, it is a day where couples dress alike and hang out, going shopping, to the movies, or dinner.  With the exception of some churches rarely do you see the stores, streets, and people’s houses decked out with lights and decorations.  However, this year I did notice more decorations when compared to last year. Also, one of the malls in Seoul decided to do their own version of “Black Friday.” (Not really sure how that went) It was nice to see more decorations but I still wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit.

That Faith Hill song, “Where Are You Christmas” from the Grinch movie starring Jim Carrey kept playing over and over in my head all month.  I was really concerned when I began to think how I have allowed things such as presents, lights, trees, decorations, Christmas scented candles, a nativity set, Christmas music, Christmas movies, Santa Clause, stockings, a candle lit Christmas Eve service, and even Christmas dinner with my family put me in the “Christmas spirit.”  I decided to do some research about how the holiday came about so I can better understand how Christmas has developed into what it is today.  Up until doing this research the only thing I knew about Christmas was the story of Jesus’ birth and that it isn’t actually Jesus’ real birthday.  Taking the research I found from several Christian and secular websites here is a brief explanation, from what I understand, on how Christmas began. 

At first, Christians were focused on remembering just Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  By the early Middle Ages, (somewhere around 273 - 336 A.D.) Christian leaders in the western part of the Roman Empire had decided to set aside December 25 as a day for celebrating the birth of Jesus. As Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 as “Christ’s mass” was adopted (around 1038 A.D.).

 Before this the Christian church held an annual feast on January 6 called an Epiphany to recognize the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.  The Epiphany remembered the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, the baptism of Jesus, and his first miracle of turning water into wine.  Some Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches still celebrate this today.  Many of my Hispanic friends call this “Dia de los Reyes Magos” or “Three Kings Day.”

If you think about it, the ancient Christian leaders setting aside a day to celebrate Jesus’ birthday is a no brainer.  Annually we celebrate the birth of our loved ones because they are special to us.  As Christians, Jesus should be even more special to us.  What other event throughout the history of time is more significant than the birth of our Savior?  It marks the arrival of Immanuel, God With Us.  He came as a servant though he was Lord.  His birth is the most important birth in the history of mankind because it is though Him we were able to obtain salvation.  Without His birth there would be no cross, no resurrection, no salvation.  The plan for freedom, justice, salvation, and liberty for all mankind was implemented on the day of Jesus’ birth, way before July 4, 1776. (Hey, I’m American;)  

In my research I also discovered that some of the customs we as Christians celebrate are “secular” in origin.  I have come to realize that these secular elements can actually add as good reminders of whom God is when applied sensibly. (“The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it” ~Psalm 24:1)  Things such as the Christmas tree reminding us that Jesus is the light of the world, Santa Clause reminding us that God is a giving god, presents to remind us of the gifts the Magi brought to worship the King, and a candy cane that looks like a shepherd’s staff or a “J” for Jesus when upside down, can all be used as lessons to share the gospel with Christians and non-Christians alike.   

This Christmas I intentionally asked people not to get me anything because I have become so disturbed by all the stuff I have.  I’m so insanely blessed beyond measure, why do I need anything more?   This Christmas I didn’t have my family or gifts under my tree. Yeah I decorated my office and put up a small tree in my apartment but that was out of tradition and habit.  As I looked at these things every day my heart ached to get more than I ever have from Christmas.  In the past I would open up Christmas gifts that people gave from the generosity of their hearts feeling so discontent after because it wasn’t what I wanted or something was wrong with it, or the things on my list that I felt were the most important, were forgotten.  What a shameful, ungrateful, Christmas attitude.  As I aged that discontentment grew into guilt.  I missed out on the meaning of Christmas for so many years because I was so discontent with things I didn’t deserve in the first place and so distracted by the commercialization, materialism, arguing, and fighting that surrounds Christmas in America.

This year Christmas became more.  The loneliness I thought I would feel without family near was filled with the presence of Jesus in my heart.  The discontentment I was afraid would haunt me another Christmas day was chased away by the joy I found in praying for others and extending kindness and hospitality to friends who also didn’t have any where else to go for Christmas. 

So back to my first question: “What is Christmas and why do I celebrate it?”  Christmas does not celebrate the day Jesus was born: it celebrates the fact that he was born.  Christmas is about hope in a world that desperately needs it. Christmas is Immanuel, God With Us.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?  It came without ribbons.  It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” ~Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Disclaimer: I'm not saying any of this is bad. It is important to do things in moderation or else all the small stuff can take away from the true meaning.

No comments:

Post a Comment