'Tis The Season...

The season to do… what, exactly? The well-worn Christmas song Deck The Halls tells us this is the season “to be jolly.” The season for overflowing joy, for loads of fun, for smiles and laughter all around.


Just last week I saw a headline that referenced a recent poll which found that as many as 45% of Americans would just as soon skip the entire Christmas season altogether. That’s almost half of us! Sounds like a lot of people aren’t looking forward to the “most wonderful time of the year.” Fa-la-la-la-ugh… can we just go home?

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Well there’s not much chance of skipping Christmas altogether, of course. Not with so much of the success of retail America hanging on how many times they can coax you and I into hitting “Add To Cart”. As much as many people detest the commercialization, the frantic pace, and the awkward family gatherings that this time of year tends to bring, the modern American Christmas season isn’t going anywhere.

In fact, there’s a strange irony at work here: one of the most common coping mechanisms to deal with the holiday madness is good ol’ retail therapy. “Stressed and frustrated? Treat yourself to that new ________! You deserve it.” While Americans hate crass commercialization, we love swag. And so we feed the beast while bemoaning the size of its jaws.

It all makes me think of a friend I had in High School, who was from the Philippines. I’ll never forget the day that he took more than a dozen members of our track team out for ice cream on his 16th birthday. Everyone wanted to pay for their own sundaes and then split the cost of his, but he would have none of it. He paid. For everyone. His response to our incredulous objections was to simply explain that this is the way birthdays are done where he was from: the one being celebrated, gives.

Maybe the Filipinos have it right.

It strikes me that Christmas itself has a very different message: giving. It is the story of God, who had it all, giving all to those who had nothing. Perhaps the best way to celebrate Christ in the manger is to turn ourselves outward, rather than inward. To orient ourselves to the stranger more than to the family, to the lonely and poor of our city more than familiar friends. To prefer the dark and cold environments to the warm and lighted ones. To befriend the outcast at school, to love the person who is so opposite from us at work. To spend time with the one nobody spends time with.

I don’t yet know what it would look like for me to do that this year. But I’m willing to ask God that question. If we act on the answer, maybe we will rediscover one of the world’s oldest truths, that “he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, that a season of joy, laughter, and smiles all around comes not from singing fa-la-la-la-la and punching in our PIN number, but from laying out one’s life so that others may know life.

After all, that’s what Jesus did.

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