by Ramesh Richard
Holiday sentiment is already invading our culture by late September. Fall foliage, weather change, and mail-order catalogs tell us that Christmas is right around the bend. Geese are getting fat, retailers are getting stocked, and children are practicing Jingle Bells on the family piano. You can check out this holiday season’s Christmas move, Jingle All the Way here.
Christmas nostalgia is like a coat hanger without a hook. You’ve probably used one of these pointed, wiry, makeshift devices. It can’t be hung anymore, but I can open a car lock, scratch a casted arm, and even enhance TV reception. It’s not what it was supposed to be, but is quite useful in other ways.
Like a hanger without a hook, Christmas has been undone. By the time you get this newsletter, Christmas is well on its way to manipulated and distorted exploitation. Pragmatism undoes the hook from the hanger so it can be used for other purposes. Thought not what it was supposed to be, this kind of Christmas is quite useful.
Christmas rushes produce goodwill gushes. A seasonal spurt of good works marks the naïve who hope to curry God’s favor with holiday spirituality. Unfortunately, God is not more or less favorable to anyone just because it is Christmastime. Unlocking God’s goodwill is a year-round need.
Have you noticed the sophisticated security systems on late model cars? Coat hanger contraptions are now obsolete as a means of entry. These days we need a locksmith to get in. And so it is unlocking God’s goodwill. We can’t force ourselves into God’s grace by ingenuity. The relational block between man and God can’t be bridged with merit-mongering, Christmas techniques.
To exchange a prostituted use of Christmas for its original purpose, you need to put Christ into the Christmas season. When locked out of God’s presence, you can’t maneuver your way in by doing good. You’ve got to call on the Locksmith.
The Lord Jesus Christ claims Locksmith prerogatives as the One who holds the key to our entry into God’s royal presence (against the Pharisees who shut up heaven, Matthew 23:13), to our mastery over Hell and Death (Revelation 1:18), and to our knowledge of God (contrast the lawyers who kept God’s truth locked up, Luke 11:52). Christ can unlock God’s grace in your life. Call on the Locksmith this Christmas.
Scratching an Itch
“No festival in the Philippines generates public enthusiasm like Christmas,” remarked my Filipino host. He continued, “An itch wanting to be scratched goes on for several months. The itch to acquire more culminates with a month-long holiday.” His nation is not alone – from Mongolia to Mozambique, from Madras to Manila, merchants of all faiths feed acquisitive human appetites at Christmas time.
Some Christians have become like a fellow who keeps his arm in a cast just so he can use a hanger to scratch himself! Encased in a plaster cast of consumption, they feel better using Christmas to scratch the avaricious itch under a biblical guise. They use the Magi narrative as the precedent for Christmas gift giving. The Wisemen, however, were wise. That is why they gave gifts to Him, not to themselves.
Humanity’s acquisitive itch is only a symptom of a much deeper affliction. Scratching the itch with a culturally-straightened hanger provides only temporary relief. But Jesus Christ did not come merely to treat our symptoms. He came to permanently address the cause of the broken arm, the constraints of sin on human self-identity, and the error that life consists in accumulation.
Christ is the hook of the hanger who explicates the reason for Christmas: “I have come that you might have life, and might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Not a life of possessions, ambition, and greed – the Life that Christ gives is internal, spiritual, and eternal. When Christ is put back in Christmas, it is the broken arm, not the hanger, that is straightened out.
Years ago we bought an old walnut veneer console TV. The reception wasn’t very clear, so we untwisted a coat hanger to use as a stopgap antenna. The picture was still shoddy. Later we found out that the problem was internal. After a technician replaced the bad tube with a good one, he gave me the deformed hanger and said, “This is no longer necessary. You can use it for decoration, but you won’t need it for reception!”
A Christmas without Christ garbles the signal. We may enjoy the ambiance, the sparkle, and the feelings that are really there. But the real message shouldn’t be distorted. The divine Repairman has identified the problem – human sin. When invited in, He throws out all the faulty parts and installs a whole new system. The hopeless, hookless hanger is discarded. We really don’t need the extras to make Christmas Christmas.
The Repairman’s name was disclosed in the first broadcast as “Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). When the Savior-Repairman creates a new inside, we receive the capacity for clear spiritual reception. Then we no longer need the holiday season to celebrate Christmas in truth and spirit. The seasonal trappings are good for decoration, but we don’t need them for good, clear reception.
Overseas some time ago, I used my only shirt hanger as a retrieval device. Then I reshaped the hanger, putting the hook back into it, and hung a shirt on it. So too can Christmas be recovered. It has been distorted for immediate, pragmatic use. But putting Christ back into Christmas reclaims the hanger from an ancillary to its original purpose.
Auxiliary uses of Christmas are enjoyable. But the original purpose of Christmas was to unlock God’s goodwill toward us, bring God’s life into us, and introduce God’s salvation to us. A Christ-redeemed, Christ-reshaped, Christ-remade Christmas bends the hanger back to its original purpose. Call on Him to reshape Christmas into what it was meant to be.