I’m the kind of person who has a tendency to overthink things.
Just last month, I almost cancelled Thanksgiving as I wrestled with existential questions about the whitewashing of America’s history, the use of religion to justify entitlement, and the cultural ethnocentrism of the tradition.
This month, Christmas has met with a similar fate as I’ve picked apart the whys and hows of this holiest of holidays.
So for those of you who are like me, here are three ways to deconstruct Christmas so that you can actually enjoy Christ.
Deconstruct the Myth
Whether it’s the festive fantasy of decking the halls with boughs of holly and roasting chestnuts on an open fire while dreaming of a white Christmas…
Or the magical myth of the silent, holy night when the Christ child was born, no crying he made while angels bent near the earth to touch their harps of gold… both these versions of Christmas are elusive illusions.
The actual story of Jesus’ birth diverges widely from what we associate with the holiday.
Instead of kisses underneath the mistletoe, we have an engagement that nearly broke off.
Instead of an idyllic Christmas card scene, we have a dark cave filled with the noxious fumes of cows and sheep.
Instead of new toys, clothes, and gifts underneath the tree, we have a child left out in the cold, wrapped in leftover strips of cloth.
Instead of laughter and merrymaking, we have scandal and rejection.
Instead of political peace and justice, we have oppression and corruption.
Instead of a cozy family sleepover in matching pajamas, we have a family on the run.
However much we try to create a picture-perfect holiday, the Christmas story is not about perfection. It’s about God entering into the chaos of our very imperfect lives and saying, “I’m here.”
Into homelands ravaged by war. Into homes filled with discord. Into bodies poisoned by disease.
When we’re stressed out by gift shopping. When our kids bicker over their new toys. When we overcook the Christmas ham.
Once we relieve Christmas of our unrealistic expectations, we are able to experience His presence in the midst of our unfiltered reality. Instead of manically trying to achieve a holiday pipe dream of love, joy, and peace, we can rest knowing that no matter what mess we are in, He is with us.
After we scrape off the candy-coated layers of the Christmas story, we realize that the good news of great joy is not that Jesus makes everything sugary sweet, but that he shows up, even when things aren’t.
Deconstruct the Motive
As Christians, we talk of Christmas as if it’s a birthday celebration for Jesus. Amidst all the holiday bustle, we try to focus on Christ. Make ourselves ready for his coming. Prepare our hearts. Make room for him. Serve him.
But does Jesus really need Christmas? Does he really expect something from us?
Maybe the reason for the season is really more about what Christ has done for us instead of what we must do for him. Because when we stop to think about it, the story of Christmas is not about our love for God. It’s about his extravagant love for us.
The God of the universe becoming God with us.
The Word becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us.
The Light of the world shining in our darkness.
The Prince of Peace extending reconciliation to us.
The Gift of God freely offering us abundant life.
Christmas is about the gospel of grace. Instead of stressing ourselves out with all the doing, we can focus on receiving. Instead of trying to spiritually prepare for his coming, we can rejoice knowing that he came even when no one was prepared. Seeing Christmas in this light frees us to cease striving and simply enjoy his goodness with gratefulness.
Deconstruct the Meaning
I once mentioned at church that I didn’t think it was necessary to celebrate Christmas. Everyone looked at me as if I had blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
But really, Christmas is just a man-made custom (as is every other holy day on the church calendar). The Bible leaves no instructions to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It does, however, leave us some thoughts on such religious observances.
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you… with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
The Christmas holiday is a shadow, pointing to the reality that is in Christ. However much we like to talk about Christ being the Reason for the season, He cannot be neatly gift-wrapped into a religious festival we observe once a year.
Jesus is not in the tree, the lights, or the presents. He’s not in the nativity set, the carols, or the Advent readings.
He is in us.
And when we have the reality living inside us, sometimes we don’t need the shadows and symbols. Sometimes those shadows only get in the way of us seeing the real thing.
So if Christmas is stressing you out, don’t feel like you have to celebrate it. Forego the stocking stuffers. Skip out on the candlelight service. Take your kids out of the Christmas pageant. Feel free to ditch the whole thing!
Or pare it down to the bare minimum, rid yourself of everyone’s expectations (including your own), and do only what you really want to.
Or go all out and sing the Christmas cantata, host that fancy dinner party, send out your 2016 family photo, and dig out those holiday mugs you use once a year.
Whichever way we choose to celebrate Christmas this year, the grace of God gives us freedom from perfection, expectations, and obligation.
Christ is with us.
Christ is for us.
Christ is in us.
The spirit of Christmas may fade after a few weeks, but the Spirit of Christ is ever present with us in the messy, mundane moments that we call Life.
Now that’s something I can celebrate all year round.