“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” ~ Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
What would it look like to honor Christmas beyond December? What does Christmas mean without the Christmas tree, jolly music, Pinterest crafts, gift buying, sumptuous meals and twinkling lights? I was raised by parents who faithfully taught me that the real meaning of Christmas was the birth of Jesus, so I know these festivities aren’t central to the holiday. But as a white American 21st century woman, it’s easy for me to get caught up in these cultural rituals and artifacts, and I struggle to disentangle them from the Incarnation.
I’m certainly not against any of the aforementioned festivities. They’re meaningful traditions that I love. Yet, as I reflected on Scrooge’s words this year, I wondered: What would my life look like if I kept Christmas all year? Here are five ways I’ve found to get past the cliché and truly celebrate Christmas all year (without keeping my tree up).
I’m cultivating thankfulness and humility.
Christmas jars me out of my self-absorption, reminding me that ultimately it’s God, not me, who is responsible for any good I do and any good I enjoy.
“Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you,” Tim Keller writes. “It is telling you that people who are saved are not those who have arisen through their own ability to be what God wants them to be. Salvation comes to those who are willing to admit how weak they are.”
Christmas calls me to remember that my salvation is not rooted in my good works. Hosting friends and neighbors for dinner, serving in the nursery at church and leading a women’s Bible study aren’t ways I prove myself to God. No matter what good I do in life, God had to come to earth to rescue me from my sin.
My salvation is a gift from God, and the good things I enjoy in life aren’t rewards for my good deeds, made possible through Jesus. Remembering this truth of Christmas moves me to respond to life with thankfulness and humility instead of pride and self-righteousness.
I’m making peace with others.
My years as a 20-something have brought challenges and conflicts to many of my relationships. In the brokenness, I’ve been tempted by bitterness and anger. Facebook and Twitter spur me to view those who disagree with me on political and social issues with exasperation and outrage.
Against my impulse to hold a grudge and grow bitter, Christmas is about peace.
Jesus is described as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and through Him we are able to make peace with God and one another (Eph. 2:13-16). Paul explains in Colossians that the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Jesus, reconciling broken relationships to himself through the blood of the cross (Col. 1:19-20).
I can honor Christmas by being a peacemaker, for that is one of the reasons Jesus came to earth.
I’m pursuing spiritual disciplines.
I know it’s cliché, but I often see spiritual disciplines as items on my to-do list. Christmas reminds me that the spiritual habits I practice are made possible because of Jesus. I like the way the author of Hebrews describes it:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22).
Spiritual disciplines like Bible reading and study, prayer and corporate and personal worship aren’t just good things Christians do. They’re a means of drawing near to God. Christmas reminds me that I can draw near to God because He drew near me.
I’m investing in my community.
The Incarnation—Jesus becoming man—tells us something vital about how God views the world. Jesus didn’t come as a disembodied spirit to save our souls. Instead, He became like his beloved creation and took on flesh, living in our broken world and acquainting himself with our struggles. And in Revelation, we’re reminded that when He returns to our world again, He will make all things new.
So what does this mean for us?
“Christmas shows us that God is not just concerned about spiritual problems but physical problems too,” writes Keller. “So we can talk about redeeming people from guilt and unbelief, as well as creating safe streets and affordable housing for the poor, in the same breath.”
I’ll keep Christmas in my heart by not only caring for the spiritual and physical needs of those around me. I’ll make meals for my neighbors. I’ll tutor at-risk students. I’ll attend city council meetings and engage in civic life. I’ll seek the welfare of the place where I live (Jer. 29:7).
I love how the third verse from “Joy to the World” describes this aspect of Christmas:
“No more let sin and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground:
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found…”
The coming of Jesus isn’t just good news for our relationship with God (though it is certainly that!). It shows us Jesus cares about the brokenness of our physical world and gives tangible hope that He’ll come back and finish His work of restoration.
I wait in hope for Christ’s return.
Although Christmas reminds us that Jesus cares about the world, the holiday also reminds us the world is broken. Jesus has come and we can live in peace with Him and others, but the reconciliation won’t fully be realized until He comes again.
We long for the paradise of Eden restored. Christmas gives us confidence that God is at work in the world, and a reminder that He’ll return to finish His work when He reigns in the New Jerusalem. Joni Eareckson Tada says that Christmas is a promise that peace will eventually rule in our lives and our world.
“Yes, the Savior has come, with him peace on earth, but the story is not finished,” she explains. “Every Christmas is still a ‘turning of the page’ until Jesus returns. Every December 25 marks another year that draws us closer to the fulfillment of the ages, that draws us closer to him.”
I live with hopes deferred. The birth of Jesus shows that my hopes are rooted in something real and tangible. My hopes may not be fulfilled this side of heaven, but I can trust they will be ultimately satisfied when Jesus returns again to this earth.
A Christmas that Doesn’t End
In a few weeks, I’ll take my Christmas tree down and stow my nativity set away, but I won’t stop honoring Christmas or keeping it.
Tada describes Christmas as an “invitation to a celebration yet to happen.” Though the ultimate celebration won’t happen until Jesus returns, I can celebrate Christmas year-round through remembering how Jesus’s birth changes the world, my community and my life.