I used to think that Christmas should be divided into two categories—“American Christmas” and “Christian Christmas.” American Christmas involved Santa Claus and presents and eggnog and tinsel. Christian Christmas included the mournful expectation of Advent that led to our celebration of Jesus’ life.
Then one day, Penny comes home from school singing and dancing to “Jingle Bell Rock.” There’s a performance coming up, and she practices daily. She knows every motion, and she sings loud and clear, if somewhat off-key. Her face is aglow with the light of a child who couldn’t be more content or more excited.
It is at that moment that I start to wonder whether American Christmas and Christian Christmas are more closely related than I had suspected.
I think back to the way Jesus’ birth upended traditional assumptions that the spiritual world and the physical world must remain distinct spheres. Jesus’ birth signaled the entrance of God into time and space. And despite Jesus’ condemnation of evil, his life attests to his ongoing affirmation of the goodness of our physical reality.
Christmas celebrates material reality, through gifts and glitter and extravagance. When we place the Nutcracker characters on the branches of our tree, when we bake molasses spice cookies, when we dress up in fancy clothes, we are participating in God’s declaration that this world matters enough to enter into it, to upend the evil within it, to hold tight to the good, forever.
So I begin to think about embracing gift giving, but I’m weary of our stuff. I don’t want my kids to feel entitled to a new bike or book or toy. I don’t want to fill another ...1