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Why Christmas Doesn’t Work

Christmas doesn’t work.

And it’s not supposed to.

My favorite time of the year is filled with crunchy leaves, smokey bonfires, crowded homecoming football games, and steamy apple cider. Autumn is followed by my second favorite season, which is unfortunately marked by eye-catching marketing campaigns, energy-draining hustle & bustle, and depressed and depleted checking accounts.

But capitalism and commercialization are not why Christmas doesn’t work. It’s deeper than that:

Three Reasons Why Christmas Doesn’t Work:

1.) Christmas doesn’t work because it produces desire without satisfaction.

If the story of Christmas was sufficient to satisfy the human soul then the gospel narratives would only be a few chapters in length. Jesus was born: it is finished. That would make for a short New Testament. Besides severing the four gospels, one could throw out Paul’s epistles and the book of Revelation altogether.

Christmas is a riveting and deeply meaningful story that provides enough intrigue to make the common man feel a loss for words. It is enough to invoke a sense of collective awe and inspire goodwill toward men. It enables civilizations to pause on the precipice of peril long enough to steal a kiss under the mistletoe and sing “Auld Lang Syne.” But it does little more than scratch the surface of the human experience and even less to reveal the character and purposes of God.

Christmas doesn’t work.

2.) Christmas doesn’t work because it brings familiarity without fulfillment.

The Christmas season is like the flu shot: it gives people enough of Jesus to inoculate them to true conversion. Most are comfortable with little Jesus, meek and mild, that they prefer for him stay that way. That’s why many homes feature a nativity in December. One would be hard pressed to find a crucifix planted amidst the blooming tulips of April. December 25th lulls the culture into a spiritual stupor by replacing the garden-praying Messiah with an anglican baby made of porcelain and decorated with blue eyes and sandy hair. The Jewish child born to a teenage girl pregnant out of wedlock is sterilized, repackaged, and made more palatable for display on Hallmark greeting cards. In this sense, Christmas brings the culture further from the cross than any other holiday.

Christmas doesn’t work.

3.) Christmas doesn’t work because it offers immanence without transcendence.

So much is said about the god who came near (immanence) that one can miss the absolute denial of a God who actually exists outside of time and space (transcendence). Thus, Christmas is a good excuse to take time off work, exchange presents and pleasantries, and reflect on what really matters. But what does really matter? It won’t be discovered in a manger, that’s for sure. It begins there, but that is far from where it ends. Tragically, for most, Christmas has everything to do with Bethlehem and nothing to do with Jerusalem.

Christmas doesn’t work.

No one can respectfully claim expertise of a particular book from merely reading the preface or a blurb from the dust jacket. Introductions are important, but only if they introduce the reader to something; or in this case, to someone. One must not mistake the prologue, for the Word itself.

The advent is empty without the adventure. The wise man’s gifts are valueless apart from the thorny crown and rugged cross. The manger is meaningless without the empty tomb. In sum, Christmas is incomplete without Easter.

Because, after all, Christmas doesn’t work.

It was never intended to. But Christ — the real, bruised, bloody, determined, crucified and raised Christ — he is able to satisfy man’s deepest need and longing. Warm thoughts about his birth will accomplish nothing. Reflection cannot substitute for repentance, nor nostalgic feelings for authentic faith.

Don’t let Christmas blind you from Christ.