On the Seventh Day of Christmas
In many ways, secularism has co-opted the season of Christmas. We forget the arrival of the Savior and throw our Christmas trees away midway through the twelve days of Christmas.
by Jerome F. Winzig
It's New Year's Day -- the seventh day of Christmas -- but already discarded Christmas trees are beginning to appear in the alleys of Minneapolis. The daily downtown Hollidazzle parades are done. Public Christmas decorations are being taken down. The after-Christmas sales have been replaced by New Year's clearance sales.
We are only half-way through the twelve days of Christmas, and just seven days into the Christian church year's 40-day season of Christmas. Yet thoughts of the Savior's birth are already being pushed aside, and Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the wise men from the east, is still five days away and will receive little notice.
We call ourselves a Christian nation. Politicians of all parties pay lip service to the notion, ending their speeches with "God bless America." But do we really believe it? Do we really hear the words of the Christmas carols we sing? One, "O Holy Night," says, "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morning."
Do we think of ourselves as living in sin and error? Do we see ourselves as a weary people in need of redemption? Probably not very often. Instead, we've made Christmas into a time when everything is supposed to be perfect, everyone happy, and everything decorated just so. There's not much room for thoughts of sin. We want to give and receive lots of gifts, but how receptive are we to the true gift of Christmas, the arrival of a Savior who delivers us from our sins?
In many ways the season of Christmas has been taken away from Christianity. Instead of the twelve days of Christmas, we have weeks of commercialism with a starting point that now stretches past Thanksgiving all the way back to that other great secular celebration, Halloween. There too, many no longer know that Halloween means "Hallowed Eve," the day before All Saints' Day, a day on which the Christian church celebrates the saints who have preceded us. It's really a time to think about how we are all sinners, a time to remember that only through Jesus can we be saints.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with kids -- and adults -- having fun with ghosts and goblins. But when all of our Christian festivals -- and particularly Christmas and Easter -- are turned upside down and commercialized, then we are all poorer for it.
When the celebration of Christmas focuses too much on material gifts, then we forget that Christmas celebrates an incredibly astonishing and unbelievable event. Christmas is really about the fact that God humbled himself to become a human child, thereby subjecting himself to all the uncertainties and frailties of human life.
Even though Christmas trees are being discarded and the lights are being taken down, the season has really just begun. It doesn't end with the infant in the manger. That infant lived a life as precarious as that of any other human being. He was presented in the temple like other Jewish babies of the time. His parents fled with him to Egypt when he was still an infant. He grew up in a small village in a country occupied by the Roman Empire. He was subject to illness and injury. He was hurt by unkindness and cruelty. He preached a gospel of repentance and forgiveness. In return, he was rejected, scorned, tortured, and mercilessly executed to save us from our sins.
That is not something we should push aside as we throw away Christmas trees and return to our everyday lives. The infant in the manger at Christmas begins the journey to Good Friday and Easter. As another Christmas carol, "Once in David's Royal City," tells us, "Jesus is our childhood's pattern; day by day, like us he grew; he was little, weak, and helpless, tears and smiles like us he knew; and he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness." So leave the tree up for a while longer, and remember.