Celebrating two Christmases

Pastor Heather Harding, City Road United Methodist Church
Dec. 20, 2013 @ 06:03 PM

Since I was a little child, I have always been aware of two different Christmases that take place in the same season. In one, we sing songs about Santa Claus and Rudolph and in the other we sing "Silent Night" and "Away in the Manger."

As I grew up in this mix of two Christmases, there were times to make a choice. Do I get Christmas cards with a nativity scene, or the ones with a snowman? For most of my young adult life, Christmas joy seemed to revolve around whether or not there was someone waiting under the mistletoe. When I had kids, the most important thing became making their Christmas wishes come true. Church was always thrown into the mix, but it was more of the world than of the church.

Now that I am older, these two Christmases seem even farther apart. There seems to be a secular Christmas and a sacred Christmas. In a sacred Christmas, the season of Advent is a time of waiting, where Christians reorient their hearts to a more genuine and sincere faith, using their resources to help those in need. Gifts are given as a sign of love, but the focus is on the birth of Jesus and the activity revolves around worship and service in the church family.

The secular Christmas, however, seems to have gotten out of control. Gift giving has turned into a shopping bonanza that now starts before the Thanksgiving meal has even been digested. People literally risk their lives out there to get bargains. While the virtue of frugality is admirable, there is something unhealthy and unholy in what Black Friday shopping has become. Instead of observing Advent as a time of waiting, the secular Christmas jumps right into the celebration of parties, feasting and spending. Parents who have been busy and distracted throughout the year try to make up for their regrets by maxing out their credit cards to provide luxuries for their children that earlier generations could never have even dreamed of.

On Dec. 25, for those who celebrate a secular Christmas, it will be over. When all of the celebration stops, family members return home, gifts are put away and the debris of the day is cleared, some will have a sense of post-Christmas disappointment. They will spend a few days returning unwanted gifts and buying themselves things that they wanted but didn’t receive. In 6 months, most of those gifts will be forgotten or discarded. Only the credit card bills and the extra pounds will remain.

But for the sacred celebration, Christmas day is only the beginning. In celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, hearts are renewed for the service of God’s kingdom. Each day will be spent with the joy of living into the good news of the reign of God. People who have been weighed down by the things that bind them in the world are free to live a life of joy and peace as followers of Jesus. They follow The Way that leads them to health and wholeness. Instead of having a letdown feeling, they continue the celebration of joy, with the focus on what God has done in their lives instead of what shopping has done to their bank accounts. In six months, they will be able to look at the fruit of the Spirit that has manifested in their lives and in the lives of those they have served.

If your Christmas has too much world and not enough Jesus, wander into a church this week and let your heart become transformed.