// the purpose-driven Christmas

If you’ve been a Christian for a while – or, in fact, if you know a Christian, or have been in the same room as a Christian between the months of November and January in the past five years – then when Christmas decorations start appearing in shops you will doubtless have heard the question asked, “but why doesn’t it focus on the real meaning of Christmas?” The argument being, of course, that because Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, it should therefore be a celebration that is all about him and not the materialistic seasonal festival it has become over time instead…

I’ve heard a few solutions proposed to this problem. One is going without presents at Christmas, to focus on the real meaning more intensely. Another, spending Christmas Day with the homeless and vulnerable, to remember another part of why it was that Christ came. There are others, too. Hand-made gifts. More mystical, scriptural treatments of the festival, which focus on what it would have been like to have been an Israelite waiting for the coming Messiah. Even that Twitter nativity that’s been doing the rounds lately might fit into that category. Somewhere.

They’re all attempts to do Christmas with an agenda, though, and I wonder about that. It’s like people are trying to redeem what they see as the corruptness of humanity by pointing beyond the corruption to something greater, which all sounds oddly Platonic if you ask me (not to mention kind of reductive, too) – disregarding the material to focus on the spiritual instead.

It’s very easy to get a wrong perspective on Christmas, and certainly I’ve found trying to buy presents this year has been draining to the point of exhaustion, causing me to ask along with so many others, “what’s the point?” But surely at least some of our message as Christians should be about living life in the present moment and experiencing the peace of Christ (which passes all understanding, don’t you know) in the midst of an exhausting period of the year – shouldn’t it?

It’s easy to be robbed of our appreciation of the things that are good in life simply because everything gets so busy. That seems to be part of living life in Western culture, and we’re pretty much all guilty of it on some level, so a mass outbreak of collective introspection is unlikely to do anyone that much good. That said, though, Christ didn’t call us to an agenda – it’s a cliché to say it, maybe, but he did call us to a relationship…

So maybe Christmas should be about being in the places where Christ is truly present in this world, and ensuring that we are truly there – not stuck in guilt about what we’re not doing or wishing we were elsewhere. Being in those places of joy, contentment or hope that make our souls come alive. For some people that may indeed be with the homeless and vulnerable, and for others it will be with family, but wherever it is, we need to make the effort to be fully present there, walking in those places in the presence of God.

That’s where freedom is, after all, and if Christmas is a celebration of the fact that God came to be present with us, then maybe that’s the best way of experiencing the point of it all over again – even if you’ve become numb to the story after all these years.

I’ve heard it said before that the worst thing that you can do when you want something badly is to want it too much, as then you’ll just lose it. If you’re terrified of being alone, you often end up that way. If you want to be cool so badly that you find yourself trying to be, you’ve almost invariably lost your cool already. And if all you want is to have a great family time, the answer is never to try to do so – that just puts pressure on it all and causes arguments. The answer is to go with it and accept that even if everything isn’t perfect, what matters are the moments of spontaneity, grace and beauty in the midst of it all. Ultimately, perfection isn’t what people remember, anyway – I’ve been to a few “perfect” Christmas gatherings over the years and honestly, they’ve always felt staged and kind of… false.

There are many of us who want to focus on the real point of Christmas this year, and from really good motives, too. But the solution isn’t to drill what we think is the point into ourselves and others, the solution is to live it.

Because Christ is here with us, we have a God to thank for all the amazing things that we have been given, whatever they are, and part of the joy of Christmas is being able to breathe deeply, be still and know that to be true.

Are you with me?

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