As I’m on the theme of Christmas at the minute, I thought I’d pick up on a little comment that was left for me on Facebook. The comment was left in response to my article on Christmas celebrations that went out yesterday. Particularly when I said that I effectively celebrate Christmas for no other reason than it is fun and I like it. This is what the comment said:
“But it is fun and I like it.” Amen bro. Too many Christian’s living stunted emotional half lives driven by pious fear.
In response, because I think this is how many of us think, I said this:
But if I enjoy it, it might be wrong
Scratch a good protestant and you’ll often find a Catholic underneath
In truth, I think some of this lies behind the obsessive desire to drag out as much spiritual value from Christmas as possible. Not because that might be a good thing to do, but because we effectively have a gnostic view of Christmas where only the so-called spiritual elements are good and the trappings are otherwise bad. The material things we now associate with materialism (whether we are being materialistic or not) and so we shun that in favour of focusing solely on the spiritual elements like the incarnation and the gospel. Material is bad; spiritual is good. Merry gnostic Christmas!
We seem to have this in us beyond Christmas too. Apparently, it is alright to enjoy a walk in God’s creation, but it is bad to enjoy a film or some music (especially “pop” music, even when the “pop” music you listen to isn’t “pop” music at all!) It is okay to enjoy the sunset that God made but it is potentially wrong to enjoy the steak dinner that he ultimately created too. We have plenty of gnostic thinking going on much of the time.
But at Christmas, we have it in abundance. Mainly because Christmas presents as a spiritual/religious festival that has been overtaken by more worldly concerns, since most of the world don’t come to church anymore and Christmas has little spiritual value for them. Of course, as I said yesterday, the big mistake in our thinking is assuming Christmas is a religious festival. It isn’t really; it’s a cultural one. Of course, with our culture being so bound up with the Western Church, there are points where Christian thinking overlaps with the cultural zeitgeist (and, interestingly, where our established church likewise allow the culture to dictate to it). But as most people have long since drifted away from the church, so too has the spiritual element slipped from Christmas.
Of course, against that, we get a backlash. Those who remain in the church want to insist that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. They want to pushback against the loss of any religious significance afforded at Christmas. And so they then kick against the materialism, the trappings, and emphasise the ‘spiritual significance’ to the detriment of the merriment. In its bid to correct the culture – forgetting that Christmas is ultimately a cultural holiday, at the end of the day – they ironically turn it into a gnostic Christmas, that isn’t much better (and in many ways, is considerably worse) than the secular materialist Christmas.
It reminds me of those Christians I used to know who set up a ‘Christian’ film club. It was pretty obvious they just enjoyed watching films (which, for the record, is perfectly fine). But it was almost as if they couldn’t quite bring themselves to just watch the film and enjoy it. It was almost as if that of itself wasn’t allowed. So, they had to invent a ‘Christian’ element. They had to discuss the ‘spiritual value’ of the films. Even if, other than sheer enjoyment, there was no particular spiritual value to be derived. And, worse, as if enjoying stuff doesn’t have spiritual value.
The fact is, over-spiritualising stuff is a joy-killer. Everything has spiritual value if it is done to the glory of God. So long as we aren’t sinning, we can thank God for good gifts (whatever they are) and just enjoy ourselves. That is alright. Even at Christmas.
In fact, I would go so far as to say if we don’t just enjoy good gifts and glorify God because of them, we are being deficient Christians. We are essentially spurning God’s good gifts to us. When the Lord states in his Word that wine is a good gift from him – notwithstanding the legit reasons some people might be best abstaining – we are effectively calling God a liar when we shun it and decry it as evil. The same is true for any good gift he gives us. When we refuse to enjoy what is manifestly not sinful, or we have to ‘spiritualise’ stuff to make it kosher, we are spurning what God has called good and given to us for our enjoyment.
Imagine this Christmas you buy your son or daughter some fantastic, top of the range gift. But when they open it, they refuse to play with it. They essentially worry that unless they can work out some spiritual sounding reason why playing Minecraft on the Switch is acceptable, they won’t touch it. Unless they hold a prayer meeting after beating the boss on Mario, it might be deemed frivolous and unsuitable. Enjoyment for the sheer sake of enjoyment – which is ultimately why you gave the gift in the first place – is not deemed good enough. We would be heartbroken if the gift we got our children wasn’t enjoyed because they couldn’t work out how to enjoy it within the strange and odd confines of what they deemed ‘spiritual’. And yet we do it all the time to the Lord.
So, yes, I don’t treat Christmas as a religious festival of any great spiritual significance. It might make me think about the incarnation a bit more than normal, but then, I think about the Lord and his coming a fair amount already to be honest. I am, after all, a pastor of a church with my head in the Bible and reflecting on the gospel quite a lot. But I won’t shun Christmas because, as I said yesterday, I just enjoy it. I like the trappings. And if it helps me think about Jesus more, that’s great. If it doesn’t, well I’ll still give thanks to him for giving me a nice holiday, a load of food and some fun traditions to enjoy too. In the end, glorifying God is what matters. And we can do that best when we just enjoy stuff he gives us to enjoy, rather the being all gnostic and keeping away or over-spiritualising stuff that, when it boils down to it, is just there to be enjoyed.