This year we will be spending our third Christmas in Asia where the 25th of December is a very ordinary day…. No nativity scenes or even a trace of Jesus.
However, shopping centers are bustling with customers drawn in by Christmas trees, lights, and decorations which help to boost seasonal sales. Santa Claus and his reindeers are becoming more and more visible each year as commercial tools to bring in more money.
Sadly, if you ask a child to draw a Christmas picture you would certainly get a picture of a tree, a snowman, or Santa Claus.
Jesus is totally “left out of the picture”.
On the other hand, it also creates opportunities to share the gospel with others who know we are Christians and want to know what Christmas is really all about.
A question really had me thinking this year: We say Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, but we’re not even sure if Jesus was born on the 25th of December, and, quite honestly, we aren’t eager to find out because it would be inconvenient to move the date we’re used to celebrating Christmas.
It also doesn’t take a lot of research to realise that most of the traditions we embrace – even in the church – have pagan origins. However, simply exposing those pagan origins will not turn hearts to the living God.
Giving gifts during this season is not unique to Christians, either. For instance, during Tet holidays in Vietnam, family members and friends also give each other gifts and children receive ‘lucky’ money in special red envelopes.
We say that the traditions are harmless, innocent and fun, so we embrace them. We pass them onto our children and our children’s children without even considering what we are celebrating and if it pleases God. I cannot help but wonder if our traditions are simply ways of trying to keep our memories alive.
Again this is probably true of every culture or religion and after three years of observing countless Buddhist and Chinese celebrations, observances, and rituals, I’m starting to see that we are truly creatures of habit and derive some comfort from hanging on to the way we are used to doing things, just like our fathers and their fathers did.
We also say that Christmas is a time for family.
Believe me, if you’d missed out on Christmas with family for three years in a row, you would find it to be true. Christmas is engraved in our minds as a time for family and food – it’s even more about the food than we make it out to be. If you miss the gathering on Christmas Day, believe me, you won’t be dreaming about the decorations on the table. You will most regret that you are missing out on a feast of family favourites.
Christmas is also a time when we are reminded of the empty seats around that same table. Knowing how much has changed from one Christmas to another can make some feel lonely and depressed.
What I find really sad after three years of observing Eastern cultures and religions is that we, as Christians, often fail to reflect our faith in Christ by the way we celebrate Christmas – especially if we embrace mere culture or pagan traditions.
It all looks the same really: have fun with your family, give each other gifts (or money) and good wishes, decorate, eat too much food etc. Even going to church (or the local temple) has often simply become part of a tradition and doesn’t necessarily reflect much about faith.
I wish Christmas could be all about Jesus again – even if we know He wasn’t necessarily born on the 25th of December. At the end of a year that may have been hard and dry for many, it revives hope for a new and better day. We can keep on singing “Joy to the World”, regardless of the state the world is in.
This year, I pray that we will think twice about what Christmas is really all about and be willing to let go of what it is not.
“Wise men still seek Jesus”
May we keep on seeking Him with all of our hearts, minds, and soul…
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” – 1 John 5:1,8
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