‘Tis the season to…..covet. One emotion, one behavior that the holiday season brings out in most people, including Christians, is covetousness.
Many people do not understand the way I write or why I write. Often times, my writing is a reflection of what God is teaching me. My writing is often the fruit of the correction and sanctification taking place in my life. While many people see my writing as merely instances of finger-pointing, what they fail to realize is that I’m the first person at whom my finger is pointed.
“Kill the messenger,” if you like, but it won’t change a thing.
Slapping a Christian Fish Bumper Sticker on Worldliness
Another Black Friday is upon us and, once again, the world goes mad.
A brawl breaks out in a Kentucky mall. A man is stabbed over a parking space at a Virginia Walmart. Police shoot and arrest an Illinois Kohl’s shoplifter who, while trying to drive away, dragged an officer. A police officer is injured as he tries to break up a fight between two men, who were among 5,000 people, waiting to get into a California Walmart.
Don’t kid yourself by thinking Christians avoid such covetous displays as are seen on Black Friday. I know a number of Christians who are among the tent-pitchers outside of area Best Buys days before Black Friday.
There is no biblical support whatsoever for the “Holiday Season,” no matter how much some Christians want to take dominion over it. Even the secular world sees through the efforts of some to Christianize things the world loves, including Christmas, in an effort to exercise a misinterpretation of Christian liberty.
What many Christians consider “taking dominion” and/or “Christian liberty” is, in actuality, nothing more than slapping a Christian fish bumper sticker on worldliness.
Granted, there are many Christians who are waging a genuine, heartfelt war to take back Christmas in an effort to honor Christ, even if some of the fights are just silly. But, at some point, all Christians must come to terms with the reality that the origins of Christmas were not really about Christ–hence how easily and quickly, through traditions, Jesus lost His title as the “reason for the season,” and why the world, at least for now, endures most of our traditions and celebrate them alongside us.
It’s a Tradition
A dear friend and pastor recently asked me why I celebrate Christmas. He asked me why I put up a Christmas tree and/or display a nativity scene. He asked me why I engage in gift exchanges. I thought about it for a moment. I thought about the birth of Christ–the incarnation of God in the flesh. I thought for a moment about how to best Christianize my answer. I chose, instead, to just be honest.
“Tradition.” I answered.
I celebrate Christmas because it’s what I’ve always done. I celebrate Christmas because my parent’s celebrated Christmas, and because their parents celebrated Christmas. 27 years ago, when God caused me to be born again and saved me, the only thing that changed regarding Christmas was that I now believed that God sent His Son to earth, in the person of Jesus Christ, in part, to save me. The birth of the Son of God now meant more to me than the presents I hoped to receive. My tradition was now Christianized.
For the purpose of full disclosure, all of the Miano Family Christmas decorations, including our old, artificial tree are sitting on my patio. In not too many days from now, my home will be decked with boughs of holly. Fa-la-la-lala-lala-la-la. Will we do it next year, or the year after? I don’t know.
But this I know. It’s time for me to be honest with myself, about the reason.
I like it. It’s tradition.
For me, I don’t believe having a Christmas tree is idolatrous. And I scoff at every attempt to use Jeremiah 10:3-4 as a proof text for calling Christians to repent for displaying Christmas trees. (I wrote an article last year titled Eisegetical Grinches about this subject.) However, I’m sure a Christmas tree could be an idol for some, and I guess the real test for me will be if/when I decide to go a season without one.
I understand that Christmas trees, wreaths, bells, lights, manger scenes (since every one of them have the “three wise men,” when the actual number is unknown, presenting gifts to baby Jesus, when the Bible makes it clear they met Jesus when he was a couple years old!) have nothing to do with Jesus. They are traditions.
Oh, and we all know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, right? We all know that every female angel that tops a tree is a mischaracterization of angels, since every reference to an angel in the Bible indicates angels are male, right? We all know the blondish, blue-eyed, fair-skinned baby in the manger is a graven image, right?
Come on. Let’s be consistent. If we’re going to fang Roman Catholics for Marian icons, we ought to at least be willing to consider the Anglo-Saxonized baby Jesus in the manger in the same vein, right?
(I’m glad I’m not on Facebook right now. The exodus from my “friends list” would be depressing.)
Sure, most Christians, including my family, don’t set out each year to blaspheme God by wantonly engaging in pagan practices. Through the practice of traditions, most Christians want to believe they are making and keeping Jesus the “reason for the season.” I have no doubt many Christians do just that–make Jesus the “reason for the season.” I’d like to believe I do, too.
But, thanks to the conversation with my pastor friend, I have to ask myself, “Tony, why do you really celebrate Christmas?”
Again, the honest answer is simple: I celebrate Christmas because I’ve always celebrated Christmas. I celebrate Christmas because I like the warm fuzzies I feel this time of year. I really like the way a fully-decorated tree looks when the tree lights go on and the rest of the lights in the house are dimmed. I like watching my girls, even though they are all now adults, decorate our tree. Each ornament represents a family memory–a year, a trip, or something else memorable. I love Mahria’s baked goods this time of year. I enjoy piling into the car one night during the holiday to look at the way people have decorated their houses with lights. While secular Christmas music makes me want to hurl, I really enjoy Christmas hymns.
Jesus is not as much the “reason for the season” as I would I like think.
Yes, I read Luke 2 every Christmas morning to my family. But, looking back over the years, I’m troubled by how I have used that practice, that tradition, as a segue to opening presents. It’s almost like, “Okay, let’s get Jesus out of the way so we can get to the real reason why we’re gathered around the tree…..PRESENTS!
‘Tis the Season to Covet
My pastor friend shared an amazing analogy with me. It goes something like this:
I decide to get Mahria something I think she will really like for Christmas–something really special. I spare no expense, picking the very best of its kind. It’s not very big, so I’m able to fit it into a small box. I have someone else wrap the gift, since I’m not very good at that. I pick the prettiest paper and a satin bow in Mahria’s favorite color.
I place the gift under the tree a full week before Christmas. Mahria sees the gift and begins to wonder what could be inside the small, smartly wrapped box. She peeks at the note attached to the box: “To Mahria: the most beautiful woman in the world, and my very best friend. Love: Tony.”
Mahria’s anticipation builds as Christmas day approaches. Soon, the day arrives. It’s Christmas Day!
Everyone opens their gifts. For the most part, everyone is satisfied. I save Mahria’s special gift until the very end. I want to make sure everyone is paying attention to Mahria as she opens the gift. I’m dying to see the look on her face. I can’t wait for the girls to compliment me on loving their mom so much.
Mahria begins to open the package.
The torn wrapping paper reveals a small, well-constructed box. A smile appears on her face as she slowly opens the box. But it quickly fades. Out of the box, Mahria removes…..
A powdered doughnut.
What would you think, ladies, if you received a powered doughnut in a box you were certain contain a piece of jewelry? Be honest.
Guys: I know what you’re doing right now. You’re wincing. You’re looking for a place to hide, even though you would never dream of putting a powdered doughnut in a jewelry box. Just the thought of making that kind of colossal mistake sends chills down your spine. Come on. Be honest.
But who’s really wrong in the story: the guy who buys his wife a powdered doughnut; or the wife who expected fine jewelry? (For the record: Mahria is not impressed by fine jewelry; never has been.)
‘Tis the season to covet! Fa-la-la-lala-lala-la-la!
People, including Christians, love to exchange gifts at Christmas. We love the practice for several reasons. Some love the feeling they get when they are generous toward others. Some like the way they feel about themselves when they are generous toward others. And who among us doesn’t like to get stuff! I love how being generous makes me feel, and I like to get stuff!
Covetousness is so much a part of the Christmas season, and thus so ingrained in the minds of people, most Christians don’t even realize they’re breaking the 10th Commandment when they do. People covet when they give–not wanting to be outdone by the generosity of others. People covet when they receive–not being satisfied with what we got. People covet when they don’t receive–not being satisfied with what they got. I covet when I give. I covet when I receive. And I covet when I don’t receive.
Christmas brings out the coveter within me.
My family and I are presently working our way through the Behold Your God study. Today’s lesson dealt with what the author refers to as three “root sins”: unbelief, pride, and selfishness. All three of these sins are present in the “fruit sin” of coveting. When I covet, I do not believe that what God provides for me is sufficient. When I covet, I prideful think I deserve more than I have. When I covet, I selfishly think of myself more than I think of others.
‘Tis the season to…..covet.
So, now what? Well, I’m not really sure. I know I have to make changes for myself regarding the celebration of Christmas. This, of course, means changes for my family, too. I learned long ago that change is not an announcement. The traditions of Christmas have been part of my life for more than 50 years. I doubt everything that needs to change will change overnight. I’ve already told Mahria that changes will begin next holiday season. To what extent we will make changes, I do not yet know.
In the meantime, if you invite me over to your house and I see a Christmas tree in your living or family room, I will not run to my car screaming, “UNCLEAN!” I will be blessed to be welcomed into your home and I will look forward to feeling the warmth of your kindness and love. If you invite me to participate in a “white elephant” gift exchange, I will participate. I have plenty of useless junk of which I should rid myself.
Oh, and if you were thinking of getting me a small gift this Christmas, I will not return the $5 gift cards to Starbucks or Amazon.com. 🙂
A reason to reconsider the celebration of Christmas–and I got this from my pastor friend, too–is that the world loves it. Think about it. Would the world love an International John 14:6 Day? Would the world love an International Great White Throne Judgment Day? Would the world love an International Jesus Is Lord Day? Of course not. The world hates Jesus. But the world loves Christmas.
So, I’ve got more thinking to do. I’ve got more thinking to do, knowing my conscience will not allow me to remain in the “thinking stage” for long. While my conscience is not yours (the readers’) or anyone else’s, I hope this article will at least give you some things to seriously consider.
‘Tis the season to covet. That’s not good, right?
Note: I read this article to my family before posting it. The conversation that followed was fruitful.