For the last couple of years, every Tuesday morning I meet for breakfast at a local restaurant with a group of fellows from our church. The conversation generally centers around everything from the sermon last Sunday to the most current sports story, including the Ohio State Buckeyes, especially this year!
One day we were talking about Christmas, and one of the men, in a moment of brutal honesty, said that he was dreading Christmas.
We asked him about that statement and he shared that it was not Christmas per se that he was dreading, but primarily the day after Christmas. He went on to say that everyone is really nice and warm and fuzzy and kind and compassionate and happy and smiley before Christmas, but afterwards, they undergo a Jekyll-Hyde transformation. The same people who are so kind before Christmas become surly and grumpy and grouchy the day after.
Ironically, there was not one of us at the table who could disagree with his observation. It is hard to make a universal statement, as there are always exceptions, but the truth of the matter is that the passing of the holiday does indeed mark a change in attitude for a great many of the people we encounter.
I am convinced that one of the reasons for this phenomenon is that we have made a very disastrous misinterpretation of the season. We have confused the “spirit of Christmas” for the “Spirit of Christ.”
The spirit of Christmas is that feeling that comes and goes with the holiday season. It is something that happens about this same time every year. It wants to be kind and peaceful to everyone, which being interpreted means not being offensive to anyone but Christians.
In fact, the other day, I saw a greeting on a streaming marquee changeable message board that declared boldly: “Have a Happy HanuChrisMaKwanzika!” (or something very similar to it – I cannot remember exactly!) This message was trying to put all the holiday celebrations into one word and thereby not offend anyone.
I was not the only one who saw this sign, and the one redeeming factor in that greeting was that it inspired a rather open and vocal discussion among all of us in the bus at the moment about the true meaning of this season.
But the fact that everyone is so nice and jovial and friendly before the holiday and then afterwards becomes so grumpy is just a symptom of the fact that the spirit of Christmas is so temporary, and will eventually pass.
The story is told of the German forces meeting the British forces on a battlefield in France during the First World War. In those days warfare was not high tech but hand-to-hand trench warfare. Soldiers lived, fought, and died in trenches full of mud and blood and vermin.
In those trenches, enemies could actually hear each other talking. They didn’t need satellites to locate the enemy. The enemy was just over there.
One cold, moonlit Christmas Eve, because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” and the sound floated up into the clear, moonlit air.
Then, from the German trenches, a rich baritone voice tuned in, singing “Der Herr Ist Mein Heiter auf Deutsche.” For a few moments, everybody in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful music and the harmony.
The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the Lord who was their shepherd. The singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away.
Early on Christmas morning, some of the British soldiers climbed out of their trenches into the no man’s land, carrying a football. One soldier carried a round football (we call it a soccer ball!). These English soldiers started kicking around a football, in a pickup game in no man’s land, between the trenches.
Then some of the German soldiers climbed out, and England played Germany at football in no man’s land on Christmas Day in the middle of the battlefield in France in the First World War. (England won.)
But the next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to normal.
My friends, this story shows us that the spirit of Christmas will produce a temporary truce but no lasting peace. Oh, it may bring people to think of peace and goodwill, of giving and forgiving. And it has been known to motivate celebrities into going to the homeless and feeding them a meal.
Although the strain of keeping it up is too much, the spirit of Christmas says something about the deepest longings of the human heart. It also says something about the incapacities of the human heart. We need something more.
The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. In other words, the spirit of Christmas is a human product, whereas the Spirit of Christ is a divine person.
One of the major challenges for every one of us during this and every Christmas season is to stop attempting to do what is impossible apart from the work of God in our lives.
The spirit of Christmas is something that man will attempt to legislate, but will never bring about lasting life change – only God Himself can do that! And that is the message of God to each of us:
Merry Christmas! And God bless…
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.