How We See Christmas Symbols
What do you think of this paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:16: “From now on we do not know anyone or anything according to the flesh. Even though we once knew Christmas according to the flesh, we know it thus no longer”? Noël told me last week that she went to a store to find some Christmas decorations, but that in six long aisles only a couple small items related to Christ. All the rest was “Christmas according to the flesh.” How should Christians respond to the desecration of Christmas?
The answer that Noël and I give for ourselves is that we want as much of our decorating and festivities as possible to be explicitly Christ-centered and Christ-exalting. There are Christmas decorations that are explicitly Christ-exalting; there are decorations which are neutral and can become secular or Christian by their context; and there are anti-Christian symbols which function to divert attention from Christ and give Christmas a secular meaning palatable to our culture.
In the latter category we put Santa Claus. The American Santa Claus is a far cry from the old German Saint Nicholas who came on December 6th. The development of the Santa Claus myth in our culture is precisely a substitute for and a diversion from the offensive Christian reality: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Therefore, Noël and I have never made Santa Claus part of our celebration and have taught our sons why we think this jolly old man is such a tragedy in our land.
In the second category of neutral decorations we put the Christmas tree, candles, holly, wreaths, bells, chestnuts, snow, colored lights, etc., etc. All of these can enhance our celebration beautifully if they are given a Christ-centered context. The rumor that the pastor is opposed to Christmas trees is mostly false (as are most rumors, thank God!). His real opinion is that in the church sanctuary we should, if anywhere, be as explicitly Christ-centered and Christ-exalting as possible. The Christmas tree in our culture does not have that significance and therefore it is not as useful in directing us to Christ as some other things. But the pastor is not by any means opposed to your creative efforts to sanctify God’s creation and make your tree a beacon to the glory of Christ — both at home and at church.
But mostly let us outstrip the world in joy and celebration by filling our homes and our churches with as many explicitly Christ-centered symbols as possible. Let us decorate in such a way that guests and passers-by say: “These people must really believe the old myth is true!” Christmas is first Christ, second Christ, third Christ, and again and again Christ! Here are some of the little efforts we have made to keep Jesus at the center of it all. (Noël wrote the rest.)
- We use Advent candles. There can be four or five candles. We light one the fourth Sunday before Christmas, two the next Sunday, etc. The fifth candle is lit on Christmas, the day we celebrate. At the lighting of each candle we read prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. Another way of marking our anticipation is by adding pieces one by one to our Jesse Tree.
- We put large and small manger scenes everywhere — on dresser tops, with the Advent candles, hanging in the windows, made into mobiles, etc.
- The center of celebration is a special manger scene in the living room. Under that table we gather our gifts. Beside it we have our Christmas Eve party — popcorn and hot chocolate, the Christmas story and prayers of thanksgiving to God for his love and deliverance.
- The boys earn pennies for any jobs during December. They save them for a birthday gift to Jesus (perhaps to World Relief this year).
- A new tradition in our celebration is the Shepherd’s Pouch. On Christmas Eve the children put their gifts to Jesus in little bags beside the manger, as the shepherds brought gifts of worship and joy to the baby. On Christmas morning Jesus’s gifts have been replaced with little fun gifts to the boys — symbolizing the gifts God showers on us.
- Passers-by only see the outside of our house. Will they know whom we celebrate by what they see? A stained glass nativity scene is in the window, a small scene hangs in the greens by the door, and a lighted star hangs near the roof. I’d like to make a banner to hang on the porch.
I could think about Christmas all day! If you want to think about it more, I put together a packet of resource pages which is outside the church office. There are more ideas for a Christ-centered Christmas, a bibliography of ideas and children’s books, and a list of Christmas symbols.
May your Advent season be filled with sweet anticipation and blessed hope.
© Desiring God Foundation. Distribution Guidelines
Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org