Why do we do what we do at Christmas?
Jesus was not (likely) born on Dec. 25. No one set up a decorated tree next to the manger in Bethlehem. We don't have any record of the holy family celebrating the impending birth of the Christ child through a series of company parties and familial gatherings. They didn't send out cards. The shepherds didn't come bearing cookies and fruit cakes.
For crying out loud, there was no little boy who showed up and bashed a drum cradle-side while baby Jesus happily slept.
Today we associate a lot with Christmas that was not present at the first Christmas. These new associations often become distractions from the intent of Christmas. But they can also be wonderful reminders of what is at the heart of Christmas.
The first chapter of the biblical book of John provides a great representation of what happened at the first Christmas: a gift came into the world, a wonderful gift of light. The light was love—a love that dispels darkness, coldness and fear. The light was present in Jesus. Jesus was given that the world may see a witness to light, love and life.
Light. Love. And life.
Those are the gifts of Christmas. Our strange traditions are meant to call our attention back to those words and ideas. We celebrate Christmas to once again be inspired by light, love and life. Trees remind us of life, even the midst of the longest, coldest nights. The lights remind us of the One Light that dispels darkness. The gifts invite us to share and experience love.
But the traditions aren't the point. The season isn't even the point. Light, love and life are the point.
There are many who shirk anything having to do with Christmas because our celebrations seem hollow. We're not supposed to act with grace and peace during one season a year. We're supposed to be people of light, love and life ALL THE TIME.
Maybe Christmas can draw us back to that. It can become a compass re-orientating us to what God is doing in the world: bringing more light, love and life. It can be a time to set habits that move us closer to being people who share light, love and life all the time.
So I hope you read this with a growing sense of freedom to let go of some of the traditions that don't quite connect for you. But may you also be inspired to grab hold of some expressions of light, love and life during the Christmas season. How can you shed a bit more light into the world? How do you plan to share love with others? What do you plan to do that offers experiences of life to others?
May Christmas simply be a reminder. May it draw us back to the heart of God's gift made in Jesus, drawing our attention back to practices of light, love and life.
Ryan Dunn is the author. He is the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church.