She was a fourth-grade little girl named Annie. Her appearance spoke of her poverty – unkempt donated clothes, tennis shoes donated by the school counselor, school-provided breakfast and lunches, poor hygiene. But on the inside, she was priceless. On the last day of school before Christmas break, Annie stood watching her teacher, Mrs. Ray, open gifts from the twenty students who were excitedly gathered around her. Unnoticed by anyone, Annie retrieved some discarded wrapping paper from the trash can, and then returned to her desk to wrap a small box. Later as the class enjoyed cupcakes, Annie went to Mrs. Ray, and while extending to her the box she had wrapped, quietly said, “Don’t let anybody else see.” Mrs. Ray opened the box to find a plastic coat button covered with tiny fake rhinestones. Annie then handed a note to Mrs. Ray and asked her to read it. It said, “To Mrs. Ray, I’m sorry, but the present isn’t that much, it’s all I had. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas.” Through tears Mrs. Ray expressed her love and gratitude to Annie. Long after the memory of the other children’s gifts had faded away, Annie’s gift remained a treasure which Mrs. Gay puts on her coat lapel each Christmas.1
Most people would, I think, agree that Annie’s actions and attitudes reflect what is often referred to as the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas refers to the attitudes and beliefs which motivate why we give, what we give, how we give, how much we give, and how sacrificially we give to others during the Christmas season. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that everyone means the same thing when they speak of the spirit of Christmas. What a person means by it depends upon his/her Christmas worldview – the lens through which he/she views and draws conclusions about Christmas as to its meaning, purpose, and celebration.
As I see it, there are two basic worldviews of Christmas. Both yield a Christmas experience, but not in the same way. First, there is the secular worldview which is not dependent upon the Christmas story found in the Bible to have a meaningful Christmas experience. For those holding this worldview, Christmas might be described as a Jingle Bells, White Christmas, mistletoe and holly, lights on the tree, and gifts under the tree kind of experience. For them, Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus lying in the manger, angels singing to shepherds on a hillside, wise men bringing gifts to the Christ child, and singing Christmas carols about them are, at best, window dressing for their overall Christmas ambiance. In the end, none of these spiritual components is essential to their overall Christmas experience. Nice to have but not necessary. For them the spirit of Christmas is what they make of it for themselves – reflected in the search for that right gift for that right person, time spent with family and friends, great food at fun parties, and the like.
Standing in contrast is the worldview of individuals whose spirit of Christmas is grounded, not in what they make of Christmas, but in what Christmas makes of them. It is the biblical worldview rooted and grounded in a belief that in the beginning God created a perfect world, that Adam and Eve (and every person since) spoiled that perfect world by sinning against God. Consequently, ever since, the world and those dwelling in it have dwelt in a brokenness that, try as they might to fix themselves, see their efforts fail. It is a brokenness only God can fix.
In the biblical Christmas worldview, Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus lying in the manger, angels singing to shepherds on a hillside, wisemen bringing gifts, and singing Christmas carols about them are not just parts of window dressing for Christmas ambiance. They are essential elements in the greatest story ever told – the story of what God did to fix man’s brokenness by providing a way sinful man could be forgiven of his sin. Thus, those with a biblical Christmas worldview understand that the central character in the Christmas story is the baby in the manger – for three major reasons:
Because of who He was.
That was no ordinary Jewish baby boy lying in that manger. That baby boy was the Son of God come down from heaven in human flesh, born of a virgin, fully God, fully man. He was divinity in humanity.
Because of what He grew up to do.
He lived a perfect life, taught great truths about the kingdom of God, and willingly died a sacrificial death on a cruel Roman cross to pay the penalty for man’s sins. Three days after being buried in a borrowed tomb, He rose from the dead so that anyone who would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.
Because of what He is going to do.
Forty days following His resurrection from the dead, Jesus, the Lord of the universe returned to heaven to sit at the right hand of God His Father. And one day He will return to earth in triumph over evil to rule the New Heaven and the new Earth forever.
The Bible is very clear as to who was lying in that manger and what He came to do:
- Luke 2: 10-11 “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
- Colossians 1:15-20 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For byhim all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
In closing, let me mention an important thought about those who have the biblical Christmas worldview. In addition to all the benefits that come through the birth of Jesus, they also get to enjoy the benefits of Jingle Bells, White Christmas, mistletoe and holly, lights on the tree, and gifts under the tree kind of experience. There’s nothing wrong with any of those expressions of the Christmas spirit – that is, unless that is all you have.
By Jerry Long, Minister of Pastoral Care
1 Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canfield, Hudson, and Newmark, 2013, p.128, as first cited in In Other Words, iows.net.