Tinsel and Trappings and the Meaning of Life
It's December. Sweet month of mistletoe, holly, and ivy: there are carols in the air, bells on the street corners, reindeer on the roof. Madison Avenue has kicked into high gear. Hollywood is busy making movies which blow the message on silver trumpets: “Christmas is about family, Santa Claus, and Dr. Seuss.” Every pastor in the nation is preaching a sermon from the first three chapters of the Book of Luke. Ten thousand families hang ten thousand decorations in ten thousand homes with ten thousand traditions.
All of which begs the question: What, exactly, is Christmas all about?
What comes to mind when you think of Christmas? Childhood memories. Sugar cookies. Sleigh rides and snowflakes and stockings by the fire. Presents. Family. Traditions. “Silent Night.” All wonderful things, all important things (some more important than others)—but not one of the above answers the question. What is Christmas all about?Last night in church we sang "Angels We Have Heard On High" and I thought about the shepherds on that very first Christmas, so very many years ago: I thought how they saw and heard such a wonder, and yet, they didn't fall into the trap we have fallen into. They did not go home and decorate angel trees; they didn't make angel cookies and sing angel carols. They knew that Christmas wasn't about angels. The angels knew it, too—they came for one reason, to point the hearts of men to a child in a manger.
Christmas is about Christ. It is about that Eternal Child who still brings light into the darkest of nights (“...beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations... The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined" Isa. 9:1-2.)
I love the tinsel and trappings of Christmas. Really I do. But the minute they cause me to lose sight of the Lord I love, they have done me a great disservice.
Up to this point, I am sure you all agree with me. But I don't want to stop yet; this truth, that Christmas is not about trappings but about Christ, goes beyond the holidays into the whole way we live our lives. You see, just as Christmas so often swallows Christ, so religion has often swallowed Him. Too many times our religion has become a song in which the music drowns out the words—a life that is all body and no heart.
What is your faith all about? Try and talk to people about the Lord and you will find yourself talking about prophecies and healings, programs and events, preachers and singers and services and denominations and mission agencies and the Christian next door who just doesn't understand Christianity. The fact is that God did not love the world so much that he sent First Baptist Church of Whereversville. He “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Nor is the message, “Come unto the big Christian concert featuring sixteen Grammy award-winning singers and ye shall find rest.” Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
Religion, with its traditions and observances, is not wrong in and of itself. We need it to help us frame the truth, to help us understand that which is too high for us. We kneel because it reminds us to pray; we sing because the song makes us think of freedom and beauty, and the Lord of both; we light candles to remind us of the Spirit's light inside of us. There is nothing wrong with any of this, until we stop using religion to lead us to Christ and start using it to lead us to itself.
When the children of Israel sinned against God in the desert and were poisoned by snakes, God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze snake and attach it to a pole, and those who looked at it would be healed. This strange statue was a symbol of the coming Messiah (“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” John 3:14-15). The Israelites kept the serpent for many years, until the time of King Hezekiah. In those days, the people had turned from God and had started worshiping the serpent itself—turning a reminder of God's grace into an idol. Hezekiah, in his zeal for the Lord, had the bronze snake destroyed.
Throughout history this pattern has repeated itself. People look to religion instead of looking to God. Those of us who come from a Protestant tradition think back to the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages and shake our heads, but our religious trappings have every bit as much potential to lead us astray—if we place our faith in them and not in Jesus. History proves this to be true. Those whose faith is in Christ live in love; those whose faith is in religion must live in judgment over others, for how else can they justify themselves?My brothers and sisters, we must come back to the author and finisher of our faith, to our Messiah. We must fall at His feet and worship; we must walk in His footsteps. It is His voice we listen for. His character we pray for. His grace we live by. When you say the words “I am a Christian,” what do they mean?Take joy in the beauty of Christmas with all of its trappings, for they make children of us all. But do not allow the tinsel to outshine the child in a manger. When Christmas ends and a new year begins, do not scorn the established church and all it represents, but do not forget why we are here—do not forget Who we are here for. Christ must be all in all.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Starr Thomson is the author of "Heart to Heart: Meeting With God in the Lord's Prayer" and the proud parent of Little Dozen Press, a small publishing company. Her devotional articles and more are available at www.LittleDozen.com. She blogs at http://rachelstarrthomson.blogspot.com.