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A popular factoid that gets tossed around this time of year is that Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 because it replaced pagan festivals formerly held on and around that date in the Roman Empire. While historians have debated whether that is actually the case, it was, nevertheless, a common practice for the early church to repurpose secular events, structures and ideas toward Christian ends.

Ironically, as Christmas has evolved, particularly in the West over the last century, the exact opposite has happened: What was once a “Christian holiday” has become a largely secular, tinsel-laden, materialism-gorged monstrosity. The world has taken Christmas and made the celebration its own, and tragically, God’s people have bought into this perspective in a major way.

This shouldn’t surprise us. From the days of Adam and Eve, it has been a common practice of sinful human hearts to take a good gift from God and alter it to a vile form of idolatry. But what would it look like for us to revisit and renew our perspective on Christmas? What is the difference between the world’s definition of Christmas and a biblically founded approach to the Advent season?

  1. A worldly Christmas is about family with us; biblical Advent is about God with us – “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” you say. “Are you telling me I shouldn’t cherish being with my family during the holidays?” Not at all. A loving family is one of the greatest blessings God can give, and Christmas often means an opportunity to spend quality time with those we love. Family is a very good thing, but unfortunately it’s often presented as the central thing of the season. Think about classic Christmas movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” When you extract Christ from Christmas, you have to replace him with an idol, and the one we’re often the least ashamed to choose is family.

    There are two major problems with this mindset. One is that family, friends or, for that matter, anything else we try to put on the throne of our lives instead of God will ultimately fail us. But more importantly, even when those things do temporarily satisfy us, we can lose sight of the one who is worthy of all honor and praise. The Advent season is about celebrating the fact that the glorious God of all existence has stepped down from his throne, taken on human flesh and sacrificed his own life to make himself known to us in love. This is an important truth not only for this time of year; it’s the most earth-shattering, life-altering truth of all time.

  2. A worldly Christmas is about getting; biblical Advent is about giving – On the first Christmas, humanity got the greatest gift it has ever received: God himself, in human form, came into the world to give life and love to his people. But we must remember that one of God’s major goals in redemption was to establish a holy people who act as his representatives in the world. As we grow in our propensity to honor the Lord with our lives, and as we experience fullness of life in him, we are freed to pour out, to give of ourselves to bless others.

    It’s a common cliché at this time of year: “It’s better to give than to receive.” Let’s be honest: It doesn’t always feel like that’s true. Sometimes it’s hard to give of ourselves for others good, and God never promises that it will be easy. But as we begin to mature in our giving, we’ll get a truer taste of Jesus’ great love for us, and the world around us, as well as our own hearts, will begin to transform in a positive way.

  3. A worldly Christmas is about me; biblical Advent is about God – What all this boils down to is that Christmas is not about me. It’s not about getting more stuff. It’s not about feeling warm and fuzzy inside. It’s not even about spending time with the people we most enjoy spending time with. The holiday season, every season of life and every moment of time from now through eternity is first and foremost about God’s glory. Because of who he is – the Lord of everything and the Lover of our souls – and what he’s done – rescued us from sin and death into love and life – he is worthy of all our honor and adoration. Let’s pray that he would transform our perspective on the Advent season to keep us focused on him.

Luke 2:19 tells us that after the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” My challenge to you is to do the same. Consider the wonder of what Christmas is really all about, and celebrate the great love of God extended to us in Christ Jesus.

(Trip Smith is the web and social media strategist for TWR. From time to time, he’ll blog his reflections on current events and how they connect to biblical truth. Check back soon for more posts like this one.)