Christians – some specific brands of Christian at that – have something of a reputation for being miserable. And nothing provides quite as much opportunity to be miserable as grinching it up at Christmas. Cromwell (who didn’t really cancel Christmas!) is seen as the arch-grinch and a certain brand of Christian, who quite likes Crommers and wants to be seen as standing in the puritan line, are quick to latch on. He may not have banned it, but certain puritans certainly wanted it so.
I think it’s fair to say, the majority opinion on Christmas these days is that it is a generally good thing. Most Christians are happy to press on and celebrate. They either seek to ‘redeem it’ from something or other (unclear what exactly), consider it fine as is and get on with it, or celebrate as a cultural event with very little spiritual value not unlike New Year. However they justify it to themselves – and I have been clear before that it doesn’t mark your spiritual calibre either way – most Christians seem ready to get their holly and their jolly on.
But, of course, tis the season to get lots of blog posts about Christmas. That’s fair enough. I’ve written a bunch here too. But you will also find quite a few with a slightly miserable edge. Even when they are essentially saying that it’s okay to celebrate Christmas, the way the very question is framed sounds pretty miserable. For example, one recent post I read asked, ‘is it sinful to celebrate Christmas?’ The question might be reasonable of itself, but it doesn’t half carry a miserable overtone. Sounds as though, even if it proves to be alright in the end, celebrations will happen if they must. Framing the question that way means it will almost never be a ringing endorsement. Should you celebrate after reading it, it may be fine, but you can do so with a side-order of guilt. Caution would always push us to ascetism, or so it often sounds.
If you are one who prefers not to celebrate (again, all power to your elbow on that perfectly legit decision), it’d be great to do that in a way that doesn’t rain on the parade of everyone else who is. if you are one who chooses to celebrate, it would be great to do that in a way that emphasises the good reasons you want to do it rather than the negative reasons not to do it. If you feel Christmas needs redeeming, that’s great. But can you redeem it in a way that doesn’t make those who just enjoy it as it is not feel guilty for enjoying it? For those who celebrate as is, can you enjoy it in such a way that doesn’t make those of a redemptive persuasion anxious?
We are very good at sanctifying our own particular decisions as though they have come from Christ himself. And the decision we have taken may be perfectly legitimate, but what legitimately can be done is not the same as what ought or must be done. And we can, no doubt inadvertently, end up sounding remarkably miserable in the process. Not speaking positively about what we have chosen to do, but implicitly impugning all those who do other.
It is before our own master we stand or fall. Let’s take joy in whatever decision we have made this Christmas time and let others find joy in whatever way they have chosen (or not) to celebrate. Whichever way you do it, do it all to the glory of God. And try not to make everyone else miserable whilst you do it.