And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from the U.S. Treasury, that all of America should go shopping. (And this decree was first made when leading economic indicators dipped to their lowest point.) And all went out to shop, each to his own mall.
And a Christian also went up from his suburban home to the city with its many malls because he wanted to prove he was from the household of prosperity. And with him was his wife, who was great with economic worry. And so it was, that, while they were there, they found many expensive presents, pudgy-faced dolls, trucks that turn into robots and a various assortment of video games. And the woman wrote checks for those they could afford and charged the rest on many different kinds of plastic cards; she wrapped the presents in bright paper and laid them in the garage; for there was no room for them in her closet.
And there were in the same country children keeping watch over their stockings by night. And lo, Santa Claus came upon them, and they were sore afraid (expecting to see the special effects they had seen in the movies). And Santa said to them, “Tear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people who can afford this holiday. For unto you will be given this day, in your suburban home, great feasts of turkey, dressing and cake — and many presents. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the presents wrapped in bright paper lying beneath an artificial tree adorned with tinsel, colored balls and lights.”
And suddenly there was with Santa Claus a multitude of relatives and friends, praising one another and saying, “Glory to you for getting me this gift; it’s just what I wanted.”
And it came to pass, as the friends and relatives were gone away into their own homes, the parents said to one another, “I sure am glad that’s over. What a mess! I’m too tired to clean it up now. Let’s go to bed and pick it up tomorrow.” And when they had said this, they remembered the statement that had been told to them by the storekeepers: “Christmas comes only once a year.” And they that heard it wondered at those things that were sold to them by the storekeepers. But the children treasured all their things in their hearts, hoarding their toys from each other. And the parents, after a drink, went to bed, glorifying and praising each other for all the bargains they had found in the stores.1
That is probably an accurate description of Christmas for many Americans. In other words, they’re indifferent to what Christmas is really all about.
Every year, around the time of Christmas, a poll is taken which asks an old, familiar question. A few years ago it was revealed that for the first time ever, Americans had given a new answer to that old, familiar question. The question was this: “What’s the most important thing about Christmas?” For the first time ever, the number one answer was not the birth of Christ but rather, family. That sounds innocent enough, everyone loves to gather with family, but at the same time, it’s sad to say that America seems to be increasingly indifferent to Christmas. Yet it’s really not much different than the reactions of some to the first Christmas. Some, strangely enough, are actually offended by Christmas. Some are simply indifferent and some, yet rejoice.
Consider King Herod:
I. Some are offended by Christmas
If ever there was someone offended by what Christmas is all about, it has to be Herod. He was an insanely jealous ruler who on various occasions had already killed three of his own sons because he thought they were trying to take his throne. To such a man, even a baby is viewed as a threat. What a sad commentary to see that human depravity can actually sink to the level of a Herod who is willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent children to keep his hold on the throne secure.
Other historic figures have also proven to be offended by what Christmas is all about. I was surprised to learn that Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan leader in England, banned the celebration of Christmas in 1644. Apparently it was acceptable to believe in Jesus, just don’t get too joyful about it!
Anti-Christmas feelings even carried over into the American colonies where in Massachusetts in 1659 a law was passed fining anyone caught celebrating Christmas. In fact, public schools in Boston remained open on Christmas Day until 1870. Imagine students today being told they will be in school on Christmas Day! Don’t worry, though, the teacher’s union would never stand for it!
Some even today are offended by what Christmas is truly about. It’s not the day off that bothers them. It’s not the gathering for a big feast. It’s not the presents that are exchanged, but rather, it’s this… It’s the statement first made by an angel to a worried Joseph who just learned his fiance, Mary, was with child: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (
It’s the talk of a Savior that men find offending; it’s the talk of sin and the need of forgiveness; it’s the proclamation of the Savior and the insistence of Christ Himself that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only way by which men may come to the Father. There are people offended by Christmas, and there are those who are simply indifferent.
II. Some are indifferent to Christmas
It strikes me as odd that the chief priests and teachers of the law don’t even express any curiosity as to why they are being questioned about the Messiah and His birthplace. They’ve been waiting over 1,000 years; they know He’s to come; they know where, and yet when questioned by someone they knew was not an expectant believer, they appear to have little or no interest. They knew the prophecy but were doomed to miss the event.
Several years ago when either Furby’s or Tickle Me Elmo’s were the rage, I was behind a man in a store whose shopping cart was loaded with all the latest gifts and computer games. He was obviously spending a lot more than I ever will at Christmas, and I thought, how fortunate that he was able to try and please his children with these wonderful gifts. Then I heard him talking to a friend: “It just doesn’t seem like Christmas anymore.” I looked at his cart full of gifts again and realized that he either had forgotten or never knew anything about the true meaning of Christmas. The only thing about Christmas that never changes is Christ — the meaning and the reason for the season!
When you notice the over-emphasis on buying gifts, when you see the long lines in the stores waiting to see the cashier, when you realize that some of those doing the most “Christmas shopping” seem to be most devoid of the Christmas spirit, then you’ll understand why I am so convinced that many children today are being raised in an atmosphere of total indifference to what Christmas is really all about.
More than ten years ago Paul Harvey reported on two women watching as a Christmas window display was being assembled at a department store in New York City. When the theme of that display became obvious, one of the women turned to the other and said, “Well, would you look at that, even the church is trying to horn in on Christmas.”
I’m convinced we’re going to see even more examples such as that in the future. In fact, one of the ladies in our church recently met a high school senior who had never, under any circumstances, set foot in any church building! What else could you expect from her other than a kind of indifference to Christmas? But, praise God, there are still those who rejoice.
III. Some are rejoicing at Christmas
Of the three groups mentioned, it’s the foreigners who do the rejoicing. Herod’s family has some Jewish heritage but it’s only the magi “from the east” who seem excited about Christ in any way.
And for those of us who already understand what Christmas is all about, it’s easy, even for us, to become a bit calloused, a bit indifferent to what the season is all about. When was the last time you actually expected that the celebration of the coming of Christ into your life could challenge you to walk closer with Him? Are you expecting Christ to come into your life in a greater capacity this Advent season? Or is it just lip service that we pay to this glorious event?
You can never know when Christ’s coming to earth could evoke in you a greater response to His love. You can never know when Christ’s coming to earth could evoke in you a new direction of service. You can never know when Christ’s coming to earth could open up a new opportunity for outreach. Are you ready for Christ to come in that manner — even to you?
There’s a question we commonly hear at this time of the year. “Are you ready for Christmas?” Our response shows that we’re bogged down with shopping and decorating, baking and cleaning, but this question should mean much, much more. Are you ready to receive Christ in your life this Advent season? Are you ready for wherever He will lead you in the coming year? That should be what we mean when we say, “Are you ready for Christmas?”
It was Christmas Eve, 1914, and all was quiet on France’s Western Front. The first world war was only five months old and approximately 800,000 men had already been wounded or killed. Every soldier wondered whether Christmas Day would bring another round of fighting and killing. But something happened: British soldiers raised “Merry Christmas” signs, and soon carols were heard from German and British trenches alike.
Christmas dawned with unarmed soldiers leaving their trenches, as officers of both sides tried unsuccessfully to stop their troops from meeting the enemy in the middle of no-man’s-land for songs and conversation. Exchanging small gifts, mostly sweets and cigars, they passed Christmas Day peacefully along miles of the front. At one spot, the British played soccer with the Germans, who won 3-2.
In some places, the spontaneous truce continued the next day, neither side willing to fire the first shot. Finally, the war resumed when fresh troops arrived, and the high command of both armies ordered that further “informal understandings” with the enemy would be punishable as treason.2
Christmas truly could and truly would impact us in powerful fashion if we would only allow it to do so. So even when the Scrooge’s of this day think it’s better to get back to the world’s nastier ways, just keep rejoicing because to do so means that you understand what Christmas is all about!
1. Original work of Chris Dolson.
2. Westwood Christian Church Newsletter, December 17, 1990.