Well, we have survived — I think. Christmas Day is definitely past, the packages have been opened, the leftovers from the Christmas dinner are going, and most of the relatives have thankfully gone home. It is time now to sit down, take a deep breath, and ask the question: “What the heck happened?”
This was the year that we promised ourselves to keep Christmas simple and focus on its meaning rather than get lost in the “busy-ness” of it, but somehow it slipped away from us — again.
It isn’t that there weren’t good things. We had some nice times with the family, “The Christmas Story” was fun to see again, and we didn’t receive one single argyle sweater, so all was not lost. And yet, Christmas somehow got lost again this year.
Having a simple Christmas is a good metaphor for the religious person living in a secular world. If we are not careful, the world and its distractions will pull us away form the more important things that we know should be our focus. As the person whose birthday we were supposed to celebrate once said: “You cannot serve two masters.”
If we really want to celebrate Christmas, we have to approach it as we would — or should — the rest of our lives. We need to be intentional about it.
The magic number seems to be three, so there are three keys to having a meaningful Christmas: we have to think, plan, and keep.
First, we have to think about Christmas. The world is a noisy place, and there are many distractions, particularly at a time like Christmas. There are commercial attractions in the print and electronic media, and our e-mail inboxes fill with marketing spam as at no other time of the year. In addition, there are parties and year-end pressures at school and work to distract us. We really have to focus if we are to even see the true Christmas.
Next, we have to plan. Life will happen to us if we don’t take charge and organize ourselves and the world around us. We have to build in opportunities for Christmas to come or it won’t.
Finally, we have to keep focused. As the old English proverbs go: “There is many a slip twixt cup and lip,” and “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” We have to stay intentional or Christmas will slip away.
If Christmas didn’t come for you, its not too late. Dec. 25 is an arbitrary date anyway, chosen to compete with a pagan holiday. Theologians and Bible scholars don’t really know when Jesus was born, either the day or the year. That he was born is not in doubt; there is ample evidence of his life to confirm that. When he was born is not known.
But it wasn’t his birthday that was important to early Christians. It was his life and particularly his death and resurrection that mattered to them. Only two of the four Gospels include an account of the birth, and they don’t report the same details because the birthday wasn’t what was critically important to the writers.
So, if you didn’t have a Christmas that was satisfying to you, pick a date — in the very near future — and celebrate. Let the Christmas Day you have chosen open you to experience the coming of God into your world this year, and may you live in the knowledge that he will be with you throughout the New Year.
Merry Christmas — whatever date you celebrate — and may you have a happy and blessed New Year.
Benjamin G. Davis, formerly the executive director of the Religious Coalition in Frederick, is currently a professor of theology and economics.