Despite the three “My”s in the title, this post is not about just me; it’s about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and my love for Him, and my joy for this greatest of all gifts that God gave to all the people of the world. It’s about my excitement that Jesus survived to the appointed time through the grace and love of God, his family, his friends, and his followers. It’s about what he taught me through the Gospel stories. And it’s about what God taught me through the prophets and believers and the stories they told that were captured in those books of the Bible written so many centuries ago. Note too that while this is written in first person singular, my wife contributed to this piece and she and I are of one accord; we together speak these things with one voice, and one heart.
I firmly believe that what I understand about the Bible, and how I live consistent with that understanding, and my complete and unconditional acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Lord and personal savior are sufficient for my salvation and entry into God’s kingdom here on earth and in Heaven. Beyond what I understand about the Bible, I do not know conclusively what else Jesus may have taught, nor do I choose to assume anything beyond his lessons and stories documented in the Gospels. Consequently, I do not believe that God will condemn me to eternal life in purgatory or hell for choosing to celebrate the giving of His matchless gift, Love, through His son Jesus Christ.
So how do I explain to my grandchildren how and why I choose to celebrate this great gift from God? This is what I will tell them.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth because for me it is an overwhelmingly joyful event and for me the greatest gift humans were ever given. I know that it was not the custom or the culture to celebrate birthdays two thousand years ago; but that was then, this is now, and I choose.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth in late December because it is a time of change, it is a time of clearing the slate, and it is a time of preparing to start another season of life. In our climate it is a time of peacefulness and quiet and stillness. It is a time of stark beauty. It is a time of brightness in the night sky. It is a time of great expectations for the future. I could just as easily choose to celebrate in the spring, another new season, but that is a time of rebirth when I celebrate his death and resurrection. I could choose to celebrate at the Jewish celebration of Sukkoth which may or may not be a more accurate choice from the standpoint of the ancient calendar. I do not choose because the Council of Nicaea chose the Feast of Saturnalia nearly 1700 years ago. I do not choose because of the modern culture I have lived in for over 60 years. That was then, this is now, and I choose.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth with the giving of gifts to those I love and cherish. God gave the greatest gift of all, His love through His son. How can I not pass that gift along through the gift of my time and love to my family and friends and even my enemies as Jesus taught me to do? Will God condemn me if I give tokens of my love and affection along with that love and affection? I don’t think so. Historically the Magi gave gifts to honor Kings; gifts were not given on birthdays. That was then, this is now, and I choose.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth by placing mementos of God’s love, and my family’s love and of special events on a fir tree, a tree that maintains its color through the seasons and reminds me of another of God’s great gifts, this Earth and all life upon it. I could just as easily not keep any mementos, or I could place them on a mantel, or a table, or a shelf. Western Europeans used a tree for other special events and pagan purposes centuries ago. But that was then, this is now, and I choose.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth with the majority of my Christian community so we can raise our voices together. I want to join my voice with others and sing the beautiful and moving songs of the season; the songs of faith and joy and love. I choose to celebrate in fellowship…I choose.
My choice poses challenges, a kind of Christmas conundrum when it comes to those I love who choose differently. I can settle into the gloom of our different choices, or I can choose the fact that those I love still celebrate Jesus’ birth and life joyfully, however and whenever they choose to do so. And I choose joy.
It troubles me that there is so much discord these days about the holidays and the reason that Christmas was created and celebrated as a holiday. It troubles me that consumerism and materialism have encroached on the religious nature of the holiday. And it does trouble me that the decision by the Romans to position Christmas on December 25 was in effect co-opting a pagan celebration. But I believe it was done at least to some degree with the intent of making disciples for Christ, and that’s not a bad thing.
No, I don’t believe God would condemn me to hell for celebrating His son’s birth as I choose to, any more than He would condemn me for choosing to worship as a Methodist instead of as a Calvinist or a Lutheran or a Baptist or a Catholic.
It’s a long explanation that my grandchildren are not yet ready for; and it will come out gradually as they begin to ask questions. Until then I will happily celebrate Christmas at least twice each year, once with my daughter and her family at Sukkoth, and once in December for me. In fact, I think I’ll just celebrate Christmas every day of the year by giving the gift of time, love, and the occasional gold, frankincense, and myrrh when I can’t be the hands, feet and heart of Christ in person.
And to all of you readers out there, know that when I wish you a Merry Christmas, it’s only because I know what I celebrate, but I don’t know if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Ramadan, or even Festivus. All I wish for you is joy and peace no matter how or what you celebrate this season, your choice…Pops