My husband has been listening to Christmas music off and on since July. Oh yes, he’s one of those people. That warm, deep belly nostalgia for Christmas is incubated inside of him year round and every now and then he can’t help but to let it out. Usually I react with a sigh and an eye roll because I can only handle so much of Christmas for so long. So, I bottle it up all year and once Thanksgiving is over I give myself over to it fully. I go deep down nostalgia lane and pull out my great-grandmother’s china, light candles, make crafts, bake cookies, you know the traditions. You’re likely to have some of your own even if you don’t celebrate the holiday.
Now that I’m an adult, and a Christian for that matter, my Christmases don’t look very different from when I was a child. The traditions are by and large the same: there’s a heap ton of presents to be opened by everyone, Santa squeezes down our chimney, and we eat until we pop. There’s less fighting than when I was little, but anxiety still runs high about which family we’ll visit this year and how little actual money we have to spend on presents, so out comes the credit card. These days I light an advent wreath every evening and sing more carols than jingles, something I didn’t do in an unbelieving family growing up, but I’ll admit that my worship during Christmastime isn’t much different than the apathetic non-believer. If I’m being honest, my worship comes in the form of over purchasing, over extending, and worrying; worshipping at the altar of the cash register.
I always tend to be skeptical of people and movements that push anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist, anti-santa and anti-gift giving at Christmas time. Not that I don’t understand and appreciate the wisdom and importance of resisting materialism. I actually think that resisting overspending and materialism is very important. Though, I can’t help but to scoff at the self-righteousness that these movements tend to bring along with them, as if they are saying, “The way you are doing Christmas is all wrong. We’ve got it right. This is the way to really worship and do Christmas.” That should leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. But if you’re like me and wondering if there is something that just isn’t right, then you’re asking, what is the right way to worship at Christmas? How can we worship more fully? Be more generous? Love our neighbors and our enemies more? How do Christians worship differently at Christmastime?
Celebrating the Word made Flesh
The gospel of John does something very different than the other gospels do when telling the birth of Jesus. It starts in Genesis. The beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (John 1:1-5). Then he expands this in 1 John 1 when he tells us that this Word is the “Word of life- the life made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us,” (1 John 1:1-2). When the Word was made flesh, John is talking about the incarnation of Jesus, the birth of God into human form, the God who created the universe in the beginning, the light that came into our darkness. And for what? To bring life? No, no. Jesus does not just bring life. Jesus actually is life. He is salvation itself. Life everlasting.
This is important and life changing when attempting to worship at Christmas. Because God became flesh and unites us to Jesus by our faith, we have eternal life and there is no other way to attain it. None. The spiritual had to become material in order for us to be his forever and to have fellowship with God. 1 John 1: 3 says, “-that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Because he became flesh and gives us his spirit, we can have communion with him; deep, intimate, personal, relationship with him, just as the apostles did. This is what Christmas gives us. It gives us everlasting life and fellowship with God.
And what a joy it is for us that the God that Moses could not even look upon without being instantly killed is in personal communion with us. That we can actually look upon his face and call upon his name because Jesus became flesh. And to be in communion with God, to worship him fully, at Christmas or any time, is to immerse yourself in his gospel and to pray. It is to not believe half truths about him or to be content with meeting him halfheartedly. The call and challenge of Christmas is to come fully to the incarnate son of God and worship, fellowship, and know his joy.
Worship Through Ordinary Means
Yet, so many things pull us away from fellowship with God at Christmas. We become so overcome with anxious thought and busyness, and even worrying about making Jesus the reason for the season, that we forget that Christmas is the manifestation of our communion with God, with emmanuel: God is with us. For God to be with us is the joy of Christmas and should bring us to worship. We cannot over spiritualize the manifestation of God when we come to worship him: Christmas is the ultimate celebration of the material. The word became flesh. So, it is right and good to celebrate the materialness of God with material things! Bake! Buy presents! Spend time with family! Sing beautiful songs! God became flesh! Celebrate!
But we must also meet the magical materialism of God’s flesh with how very ordinary this flesh came to us: in a stable with our Lord laying in a manger. Perhaps one of the reasons that worship is so difficult around Christmas is because of how grand we force it to be. The more we push, the more we feverishly and lavishly we run around to make Christmas as memorable, special, and worshipful as we can, the less that we actually are moved to worship. Isn’t that interesting? The ordinariness of worship and Jesus’ incarnation shouldn’t escape us at Christmas. An unwed teenage girl gave birth to God in a stable. The suffering of this moment should strike us. The moment of great joy for the whole world came through Mary’s suffering. Through very ordinary means. No trumpets. No royal throne. But a filthy stable. And the same can be said for our worship: the daily suffering and obedience of praying, reading God’s word, attending worship, discipling and serving each other, depending on Jesus when life is tough, this is the ordinariness of worship, the means by which joy seeps through, and how the gospel entered our world.
So, you don’t have to go searching and hunting down extravagant joy this Christmas. You don’t have to overspend and overextend yourself looking for a joy that is grand and memorable. I think that you’ll be wonderfully surprised at how much joy there is in the ordinary and how the gospel will always meet you there.