The Temptation of Christmas
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. -1 John 2:16
Christmas is one of my most favorite seasons of the year, apart from Easter (Ok, so I’m your typical, good church-goer I guess). I love the gatherings, the food, the gifts, the smells, the colors, etc. In fact I love them so much that many times I catch myself thinking that they are what Christmas is all about. I get caught up in the merriment of the moment and forget that in all actuality the season is about self-sacrifice. Now, don’t think that I’m against snickerdoodle cookies, egg-nogg, hot chocolate, Christmas trees, and all of the stuff that goes along with Christmas. I’m most certainly not. But I do think we have to be careful not to turn good things into idols. Our hearts are prone to do that. As John Calvin said, “the heart is an idol factory.” Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to bless others and give thanks to God for all His many blessings. In fact, it’s such a good opportunity to do it that it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the enemy would seek to hijack our affections and turn them away from the reason we Christian’s celebrate the Christmas season.
You’ve probably assumed by now that I’m talking about the commercialization of the Christmas season. Instead of being about celebrating life, the arrival of our Messiah, and the sacrifice that God made for us by sending His Son, we get more caught up in sales, gifts, over-eating, and overall extravagance. We turn Christmas in on us rather than pointing it to our Savior. Even in our gift giving, we turn Christmas into a self-glorifying event. We search and search for the perfect gift and when it’s opened our pride hinges on the response it receives from the recipient. We brag about the deals we got at the department stores. We manipulate our children into doing what “WE” want them to do by telling them that, unless they do, Old St. Nick won’t be bringing anything their way. See my point?
Now, without getting into the debate of which is better, Santa/No-Santa, Nativity/No-Nativity, Tree/No-Tree, I instead want to put some thoughts out there that can perhaps help us to navigate the temptations of Christmas and remain focused on why we, as Christians, really celebrate the holidays.
1. The Desires of the Flesh
Don’t forget that Christmas is about people. It is not about toys or gadgets or traditions or feasts. It is about remembering that God loves people in a sacrificial way. John 3:16 reminds us of just how sacrificial God is in that He sent His own beloved Son to dwell among us and that’s what we truly celebrate at Christmas. So, don’t get so caught up in satisfying your desires but remember to look for ways to satisfy others.
2. The Desires of the Eyes
It is really easy to get carried away with materialism during the Christmas season. Just listen to you average young child during the holidays and all you’ll hear is “I want, I want, I want.” While it isn’t necessarily bad to desire things it is bad when we allow that desire to become a priority. Let’s not forget that covetousness is just as much a sin during Christmas as it is the rest of year; we don’t get a pass on it during the yuletide season (Exodus 20:17). Instead, try to balance your desires with thankfulness to God for the things that you do have (1 Thess. 5:18) and even think of ways to perhaps bless someone else who doesn’t have.
3. The Pride in Possessions
This really encompasses the other two points. During Christmas it is very easy to get carried away in what we buy for others. And while giving to others certainly isn’t sinful in and of itself it can become a sinful attitude when we get so caught up in giving the perfect gift that we lose sight of what giving is really about, being blessed and being a blessing (Acts 20:35). This year, remember that it’s not about how many presents each person has under the tree nor is it about the types of gifts under the tree. What matters is that we give with a cheerful and thankful heart and we seek other’s happiness above our own through the blessing of gift giving that is in proportion with our financial means. (Yeah, I went there. Don’t empty your savings account or put the family in debt to buy your kids or your loved ones the name brand, hot-ticket item they “can’t live without.”)
Now, I understand that some will probably label me a Scrooge after reading this. But, please understand that I love Christmas and I love the traditions of Christmas. What I don’t love is how the arch-enemy of our souls can take something that is supposed to be about selfless giving and thankfulness and turn it into the commercialized, money-making, self-glorifying idol that Christmas has become. Instead, let’s enjoy all of those wonderful things that go along with Christmas all the while keeping them in check by remembering the love God has shown to us, the Savior whose birth is the whole reason we celebrate, and remembering that we are still called to be in the world and not of the world, even at Christmas.
May God richly and abundantly bless you and your family during this wonderful Christmas season!