Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
Jesus is the reason for the season. Good news, huh? Okay, I’m aware that we know this. I’ve heard six straight devotionals drawing me back to the real meaning of Christmas. But I wonder if our focus needs to shift from the scrutiny of our priorities to our actual desires. There’s a difference, subtle as it may be. The admonishing of someone toward a hierarchy of priorities is usually littered with “should’s”, and should statements rarely lead one to worship.
Why is it that walking into Starbucks in December and ordering a Crème Brulle Latte makes me feel like I’m experiencing Christmas? Why does an eager energy warm my soul at the end of November when Christmas commercials begin? Why do red and green M&M’s taste better? I love the culture. Our created holiday culture borrows power from the name of Christ, and that makes us smile, but it is a culture that treats God’s invasion into our story more like an interruption than a rescue. And sadly, we’re okay with that. We often love the culture more than the Christ. Imagine if the Starbucks of Herod’s time created new lattes and mochas every year to celebrate the census. The wise men would not have stopped, but would we have?
Ultimately, in any given moment, we act on our desires. And our culture desires too little. To rewrite C.S. Lewis’ quote, We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with Santa and reindeer and candy canes and shopping when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant Christian who wants to go on drinking a hot cup of Christmas culture with cream because he cannot fully imagine what is meant by the offer of a Savior in a manger. We are far too easily pleased.
Another reason we cling to culture is that the intellectual truth of the gospel feels disconnected, too far out of reach, from the cold reality of our lives. So the Christmas culture becomes a tangible experience, something on our terms, not God’s. Part of the struggle with this disconnection is the sense that all of this celebration and focus around the birth of our Messiah must create some more intimate experience of Jesus than the other wintry eleven months. Shouldn’t Jesus be more accessible with all of this mistletoe and caroling? When December arrives and our hearts feel just as lonely, we turn to the Christmas culture to befriend them.
My toddlers love to look at Christmas lights. Last week I drove my family through our neighborhood on the way to the grocery store. The girls picked out several houses that required stops to view the illuminated snowmen, Santas, and reindeer. Several houses warranted return trips on the way home. Their favorite house is not immaculately lit, but rather has several intriguing characters sitting on the lawn: two gingerbread men, Mickey, Frosty the Snowman, and their favorite, a huge red M&M. As we left Publix, the girls talked about this house. I zipped through the neighborhood in anticipation. I quickly hit the brakes as we approached a nativity scene that we’d previously missed. Our car rolled past at 20 mph and we attempted to spiritualize the season by pointing out the little baby in the manger. But their excitement for the red M&M pushed my foot back to the pedal. Sadly, baby Jesus doesn’t taste like chocolate.
We have created a culture called Christmas that excites us more than the reality. Pornographic movie producers make millions off the same philosophy. The fantasy is better than the real thing. I do not advocate that we throw out Jingle Bells and boycott Starbucks in December. But we do need to watch over our hearts amidst an intoxicating season. It’s about desire, not priorities. Do you desire enough this Christmas? Would you be overjoyed if Christmas morning arrived and Santa had replaced your tree with a nativity scene that invited you to simply stare and ponder the greatest story ever told, a story that needs no sweetening? It starts with desire, a painful awareness that the fulfillment of your longings, hopes, and dreams can only be fully met by that baby in the manger. Stop and stare. Ponder. Gaze on the God who tastes much better than a chocolate M&M.