Last November Judi and I visited a local nursery to look at their Christmas displays. I felt a little sheepish about it because I can be self-righteous about Christmas decorations. “Can’t they at least wait until Thanksgiving?” I grumble. And yet there we were, a full three weeks before Thanksgiving, looking at elaborate, sometimes overwhelmingly gaudy Christmas decorations.
I am not a connoisseur of Christmas displays, but I was impressed, both negatively and positively, by the extravagance and size of this collection. I counted 14 full-sized trees, each crowded with thematically coordinated ornaments.
There must have been hundreds of stuffed or carved animals—reindeer, bears, deer, mice, etc. One section was devoted to large crystal-like animals covered with glitter and massive pink bows topping the display. It was, I thought, a bit much.
Throughout the store there were racks upon racks of ornaments of every type. There were printed signs with positive messages like “Do good” and “Believe you can.” I smiled at “Christmas calories don’t count.” And, of course, Santas were everywhere.
One whole section was devoted to Seattle Seahawks ornaments, clothing, signs, and more. As I looked over this conflation of football and Christmas, it occurred to me I had not seen a nativity set; so I went looking for one.
I found a section devoted to crèches. It looked smaller than the Seahawks display. It seemed the Seahawks were entitled to more floor space than the Christ Child. I was a little disturbed by this apparent demotion of the nativity. As I was thinking about why that was, I heard an exchange between two women standing nearby. One pointed to a nativity set and said to the other, “We have one of those. It belonged to my grandmother. We don’t do much with that sort of thing. Christmas is about family getting together.”
I was disappointed to hear her words, and a dose of judgmentalism touched my spirit. I thought to myself, “Christmas is about the birth of the Savior. Gathering family together is important, but the season is about the birth of the Child. It’s about Jesus coming to this world to save us from our sins. Don’t you know that?”
As I simmered in my self-righteous indignation, another truth came to me. Declaring the meaning of the season is not the responsibility of those who “don’t do much with that sort of thing,” nor is it the responsibility of stores, schools, government, Hollywood, or any other secular organization. It is the privilege and responsibility of those who believe in Jesus to practice, prioritize, declare, and keep in focus the truth that in Bethlehem of Judea the Savior of the world was born.
We can do this in very simple ways such as including nativity sets in our decorations, reading the Christmas story, using nativity-centered Advent calendars, and attending Advent and Christmas worship services. And we can do other “larger” things: service projects, extra giving, and special Advent spiritual disciplines. These measures only minimally tell the world about the meaning of Christmas—their major purpose is to remind ourselves as believers about the birth of Christ so that we don’t become untethered to the truth of this season.
It is sad when those who “don’t do much with that sort of thing” forget about the season’s real meaning. It is tragic and consequential when believers forget it.