Joseph Bottum:

Christmas is the first claim of Christianity — it’s the declaration that the divine actually entered this world, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the idea is so huge, so weighty, so overwhelming, that everything else we think or feel has to bend to it. It’s an enormous star that suddenly appears in the human galaxy, and its gravity begins drawing every planet into its orbit.

The danger here is that everything can collapse into it. Christmas is so huge it would devour the universe, if it could. It would devour even the Christianity that gives it meaning. And this is what our friends who complain about the commercialization and overindulgence of Christmas rightly see. Without the liturgical calendar of Advent, without the structure of the Christian year, we end up with Christmas catalogues arriving in the mail before Halloween. With secularized silliness like the greeting “Happy Holidays!” With reindeer, and candy canes, and Santas, and everything, anything, but the Christ child.

And yet, we can have the penance of the Advent season. We can have the crèche. We can have the carols of weight and theological substance: Mild he lays his glory by, the Wesleyan carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” reminds us, born that man no more may die.

And if we do have all that, if we locate ourselves within the great Christmas tradition, why can’t we simply enjoy all the rest? I love Christmas, Kathryn. I love the swirl of words in it, like snowflakes through the yellow circle of a streetlight late at night. I love the inflatable reindeer, and the houses insanely covered with lights, and the fruitcakes as heavy as uranium and nearly as radioactive, and the tinny Muzak, and the frenzied shoppers, and all the rest.

I like beautiful things at Christmas better than shoddy commercial junk, because I think it’s easier to see the honor being paid to God in the beautiful and the carefully made. But I love even the most gimcrack trash of the season — because I don’t think people are necessarily far from wisdom even in their greatest foolishness. In our confused and stumbling way, we are honoring God, expressing our love and joy, when we pile onto the season’s mad bonfire all that Christmas silliness.

It’s a festival, a wild, crazy thing, just like what the Middle Ages knew. And if it swirls out from its center in goofy antics and mounds of presents, so what? Know that at its center lies an infant in a cattle shed, and enjoy all the rest of it.

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5 thoughts on “Keep Christ at the Center of Christmas And Enjoy the Inflatable Reindeer”

  1. Tom Beetham says:

    “But I love even the most gimcrack trash of the season — because I don’t think people are necessarily far from wisdom even in their greatest foolishness. In our confused and stumbling way, we are honoring God, expressing our love and joy, when we pile onto the season’s mad bonfire all that Christmas silliness.”

    I agree with some of this post, and I love the spirit of non-judgmentalism that exudes from the post. But some of these thoughts seem too loose. I apologize if I am being to nit-picky, but I am thinking of 1 Corinthians with its contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Isn’t the point Paul makes there that the world, in its own wisdom, would never discover God? That apart from the Spirit of God we would remain utterly foolish, which seems to go against “In our confused and stumbling way, we are honoring God, expressing our love and joy, when we pile onto the season’s mad bonfire all that Christmas silliness.” Believers or unbelievers? I guess I am just suggesting that there needs to be much more theological precision and discernment in all that goes on during the Christmas season. Perhaps there are those who despise that Santa Claus has any part. There are others who want him front and center. Is there is middle ground? Pleading for discernment…

  2. Kevin Jandt says:

    “why can’t we simply enjoy all the rest?”

    without the message of the gospel this is just another day for the unbelieving world to celebrate something.

    Are we not called to step out and be different. I’ve struggled to see Biblically how Christ even desires to be at the center of Christmas but that is not the point for this discussion. How should Believers be different? Mark 7:8-9, 2 Corinthians 6:15.

    Should we embrace everything the world has created. Do we desire to please men or God (Galatians 1:10)?

  3. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I agree we need discernment. It is possible for the rif-raff silliness of Christmas to drown out our Silent Night, Holy Night. I think all the author is suggesting is that we can enjoy candy canes and Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch too.

  4. David says:

    I think that the main reason we struggle to keep Christ at the center of Christmas is that we don’t hold him as God in our hearts. As a result, we struggle to protect trappings. When we do hold Christ in our hearts in the esteem that his worth merits, we worship Him and the trappings fade. Christmas with its accouterments is a perfectly good opportunity to worship the Christ who came to live among us.

  5. Marvelous article, thanks for sharing !!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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