Mailvox: the joy of Christmas

NL wonders about today’s celebrations:

You seem to be an erudite person. But why is it the most educated can never understand the Bible? First of all, Christ could no have been born on December 25th. Shepherds were out in the field, it’s too cold for that in December. Surely, your logical mind could figure this out!

Second, there is no commandment to remember his birth. You did know that didn’t you? So why do you celebrate his birthday?

And if you did, did you give any presents to Jesus? You give it to the person whose birthday it is. Why does everybody say “happy birthday Jesus” then proceed to give each other presents? Silly!

What does celebrating Jesus Christ’s birth on December 25th have to do with his actual birthday? It’s true, the chances that his birth actually took place in the winter are nil, but to focus on the actual date is to miss the point of the holiday entirely. Christmas is a celebration of the expression of God’s love for Man, a love which took the form of the gift of His Son.

In the same way, we give gifts to each other to express our love for one another. The reason that the militant secularists hate Christmas is because it is such a powerfully effective metaphor, especially for children. We may talk about “good” children receiving gifts and “bad” ones receiving coal, but most children know perfectly well that the stack of presents from Santa under the tree are largely unmerited.

And, as always, it is a mistake to look too hard for the logic behind any metaphor.

It’s true, there is no commandment to do many worthwhile things. This does not make them silly, illegitimate or sinful. As for “Happy Birthday Jesus,” I don’t know anyone who does this, nor would one expect to give Jesus presents when he is, quite obviously, not there. (Otherwise, Christians could not anticipate his eventual return.)

It is easy to forget that God is not only a God of righteousness and judgment, but also of Joy. I find it very difficult to imagine that the pure joy one sees on a child’s face on Christmas morning, the sheer awe and delight, can be something that God, in whose image we are made, does not regard with joy Himself.

I have no problem with those who choose not to celebrate Christmas, whether they are Christians refraining from doing so in the Puritan tradition or atheists who quite reasonably consider the idea of an incarnate God made flesh to be a profoundly ridiculous concept. But I do feel a sense of pity for anyone who would rob himself of even a modicum of the joy that so many of us know at Christmastime.