Like most Americans, I’m fond of the Christmas season. The lights, the decorations, the music, the movies, the food and drinks, sparkly and tacky clothes, extra time spent with friends and family members, and all the other fun, festive, and celebratory activities, traditions, and social gatherings that are enjoyed throughout Christmas and New Year’s.
Whether you believe in Santa or God or neither or both or something else or nothing at all, anyone can cherish or appreciate the things stated above. They’re elements of common grace – little joys and pleasures sprinkled throughout life that can be experienced by anyone and for any reason. Common grace is a gift from God that reflects His love for humanity and His desire to be reunited with His creation. It’s like a tiny glimpse of Heaven. Even so, all the Christmasy-things we love (or hate) is not what the spirit of Christmas is all about.
I was thinking about this as my family was putting up our 15-foot artificial Christmas tree (yes, we’re tree frauds but certainly not for convenience sake!). It is a complete chore to haul four or five massive tree bags out of our basement mechanical space, up the stairs to our main level, and into our two-story living room, especially after spending several hours prior swapping out fall décor for Christmas flair (and cleaning in between packing, stowing, unpacking, and replacing all the items). Obviously, we don’t do it because it’s necessarily something we want to do. We go through the hassle, time, and energy spent because we like how our home looks after the seasonal transition is complete.
I’ll be honest, I never considered this before and it took me aback as I saw myself and the tree reflected in my living room window that night. It seemed like all the stuff was taking away or distracting from the Reason for the season.
As I looked out the window at the woods behind my home with the moon shining onto my backyard, I envisioned the evening Jesus’ entered the world. The natural simplicity of His birthplace and the humble surroundings of the stable, animals, His first guests, and His earthly parents. No bells nor whistles (but there were angelic praises which are obviously more elaborate 🙂 ). No gaudy decorations or overpriced presents that would quickly be forgotten, discarded, unwelcomed, unused, or disvalued. No. All that was present that night was all that was needed and all that matters.
The Spirit of Christmas looks like:
- Love & Compassion
- Peace & Gentleness
- Joy & Gratitude
- Kindness & Goodness
- Servitude & Generosity
- Faithfulness & Holiness
It’s adding a seat or two at your dining table.
Loving those who are hard to love and forgiving those who don’t want to forgive.
Cultivating a heart of joy and gratitude despite a season of sorrow, grief, misfortune, doubt, disappointment, or discontentment.
Holding the door for someone while you’re out and about, allowing a stranger to cut ahead of you in a long shopping line, or paying for the person’s order behind you when you’re at a drive-through.
Extending patience to service workers and store employees, to restaurant servers and flight attendants, to those sharing the road with you when you’re driving, to that family member that always asks you the same question, and more.
It’s exercising self-control throughout a season of temptation and overindulgence.
It’s giving more than you are receiving and serving more than you are consuming.
And above all, it is lowering yourself and your own wants, needs, and desires, to the very bottom of your priority “hierarchy” so you can live out the two greatest commandments:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 40Matthew 22:38, 40 (CSB)
The true Spirit of Christmas is pursuing Christ-likeness from the inside out. When you follow His way over the traditions of the world, you’ll discover the fullness that comes with being emptied completely.
[Christian humility taught by Paul to the Philippians]
“If, then, there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,who, existing in the form of God,Philippians 2:1-11 (CSB)
did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when He had come as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.