Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. As a child, the anticipation of Christmas morning hijacked my powers of concentration as early as September. Christmas Eve would find me lying awake in bed all night, yearning for the faintest sound of life from my parents’ room to pierce the darkness.
I still look forward to December. I like to sit by the glowing Christmas tree and wrap presents. I enjoy playing the instrumental Old Time Country Christmas CD that Lori and I bought before we even started dating.
Experiencing the Christmas season is almost like living in a fantasy world in which we do things that don’t really make a lot of sense. We haul trees into our houses, leaving a trail of pine needles in the wake. We max out our electric bills by stringing up lights that serve no purpose other than to shout to the world that we have officially embraced the Christmas spirit. We spend money to buy presents for people who spend money to buy presents for us. No one really comes out ahead. Still, it’s a fantasy world that we enjoy.
Part of my Christmas fantasy involves watching movies. White Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Ernest Saves Christmas are all cherished classics. My wife takes issue with Ernest being considered a classic, but I’ll forgive her for that. After all, it’s Christmas.
Other traditions also encourage the fantasy of Christmas. We arrange cute manger scenes designed from Precious Moments figurines. We croon Christmas carols that marginally align with the actual Bible stories. After all, the angels never sang and the magi weren’t kings.
But it’s all ok. Christmas has become a whimsical, dreamy world that exits within our fantasies. For a season we set aside our differences to focus on peace on earth and good will to all men.
If you were to examine our Christmas tree, among the nostalgic family heirlooms, the memory-laden gifts, and the first-grade art projects, you might discover an ornament that at first glance seems to confuse fantasy and reality. Below a gold-plated Hummel passed down from my wife’s grandmother and next to a Mickey Mouse hat that found its way back from our vacation in Florida, you will find a figurine of Santa Claus on one knee, paying homage to a baby in a manger.
I remember the first time I saw it. I was not quite sure what to think. Is it disrespectful to combine Jesus and Santa Claus in one ornamental setting? As I contemplated this strange decoration, I began to realize that it conveys an important message. Santa Claus is an undisputed part of the fantasy of Christmas. He is not real (my apologies for the spoiler). The baby in the manger, however, is real. The child depicts Jesus Christ who came for one reason—to give Himself as the sacrifice for man’s sin.
Before that miraculous birth, an angel appeared to Mary with some startling news. Although she was a virgin, she was pregnant. The child was to be named Jesus, which means “Jehovah saves.” His one purpose in life would be to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
When Jesus was born, no halo appeared over His head. There is no indication that as He lay “away in the manger” that the night was silent for lack of infant cries. Most likely, Mary preferred sleeping away the agony of the pre-epidural birth over kneeling in worship by the side of the manger. The nativity scene was no event of fantasy. We can describe it with one word: real.
The nativity was real. Jesus was a real man and the real God. He came for a real reason: to rescue us from the real punishment we deserve.
While we enjoy the fantasy of Christmas, let’s remember the real reason behind the coming of Jesus: that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). While we may enjoy our fantasies, they must bow in reverence to the baby in the manger.
This article appeared in the Bremen Enquirer in my column Connections: Relating the Bible to Everyday Life on Thursday, December 12, 2015.