Don’t be a Scrooge!

My ritual for “getting into the Christmas spirit” each year is to watch Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (my favorite since childhood), Charlie Brown’s Christmas and the original Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Usually these hokey childhood shows work like a charm. This year, not so much.

Anyone else out there struggling to “get into the spirit”?

Part of the problem is undoubtedly the economy. It has tanked to mind-boggling proportions and, according to most economists, the end is not yet in sight. If we have not lost our job or house, most of us know folks who have. Things are tight even for those of us who are most fortunate and the future is uncertain. This easily dampens the “Christmas spirit” a bit.

But this leads to a more fundamental issue with Christmas, one I’ve increasingly struggled with the last ten years or so. Ask yourself: Why would a catastrophic economy dampen the “Christmas spirit”? The obvious answer is that the “Christmas spirit” is largely driven by the economy! Typical American consumerism goes on steroids during the holiday season! Even in this very lean year a Wal-Mart clerk was tragically stampeded to death by a crowd of frenzied shoppers racing for the best deal. (All in the name of celebrating the birth of the Christ child!)

Meanwhile, as we hoard more and more, a great percentage of the world suffers for lack of basic necessities. I saw a chart recently that showed that, for a fraction of what Americans spend on Christmas each year, we could supply clean water to the many millions of people around the globe who need it (thus saving the millions who die each year — most of them children — from drinking unclean water).

Given the Bible’s warnings against hoarding resources while others are in need (the definition of “greed”), this annual social pattern has to disturb us deeply.

When you add to this the facts that December 25th was adopted as Christ’s birthday from a pagan Roman mystery religion (and before that, ancient Greek fertility cults) and that most of the symbolism of the season is pagan in origin (the Christmas tree comes from Nordic religion, for example), you have a pretty good case against getting into the “Christmas spirit” — one that’s so strong, even Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol might not be able to overcome it.

Nevertheless — call me incurably pagan if you want — I am going to keep on trying. Hopefully, sometime between now and December 25th the “magic” of the season will hit.

Why don’t I just give up on this consumeristic-pagan holiday altogether, you ask?

Because it’s not Christ-like to be a Scrooge!

Have you ever wondered why Jesus took a couple days out of his short ministry to attend a wedding feast and then waste a miracle changing water into wine for a bunch of people who had already had a lot to drink, when there were undoubtedly crippled children all around Palestine who could have used that miracle? Have you ever wondered why Jesus often took time out to go to parties (with prostitutes and tax collectors no less!)? Have you ever wondered why Jesus rebuked the disciple who complained that a woman was wasting expensive ointment by pouring it onto Jesus’ feet, when, as a matter of fact, the complaining disciple was right in claiming it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor (it’s estimated that the ointment was worth up to a year’s salary)?

I used to struggle with these sorts of things, but I don’t any longer.

Everything Jesus did — including his celebrating — manifests the Kingdom. What Jesus’ superfluous miracle, frequent partying and acceptance of expensive worship reveal is that life under the reign of God isn’t just about ministry and work: it includes celebrating. Yes we’re to live self-sacrificial, radically generous lives. But life as God intended it includes celebrating weddings, drinking wine, going to parties and engaging in extravagant worship. These aren’t “breaks” from Kingdom living: they’re important aspects of Kingdom living!

So, I plan on celebrating this pagan, consumeristic, holiday, and I’m going to keep trying to “get into the spirit.” I refuse to be a scrooge! This doesn’t mean I’m going to indulge in the consumerism-on-steroids frenzy. And it doesn’t mean I’m going to reflect more deeply on “the meaning of Christ’s birth” (folks, if you aren’t living this out every day, you’re not likely to discover the meaning in the middle of this pagan frenzy!) But it does mean I’m going to spend some extra money to give a few gifts to loved ones and spend a little more time with them. And I’m not going to feel guilty about it, for this is an important dimension of how God intended life to be lived.

In a world as messed up as ours, we need to find occasions to celebrate. Our culture has decided December 25th is such an occasion, and I encourage you to take advantage of it.

Don’t be a scrooge.

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