(Devotional reflections on Christmas at the last get-together for the year of the Christian Writers' Fellowship)
Let me begin by showing you my Christmas tree this year. The white fabric and ecru tissue-paper flowers are all made by hand—mine. All told, the trimmings of this 12-year-old tree is less than P500.
I call it my tree because the men who live with me—a husband and two sons—don’t even know it’s there. When son No. 1 came home on the day I finished trimming it, I asked, “Tada! How do you like my tree?”
When son No. 3 came home, again I asked, “How do you like my tree?”
“Mom, it’s November 1, it’s a long way to Christmas!"
Finally, the husband came home, “How do you like my tree?”
“You better make sure those are LED lights to save on electricity.”
Indeed, it is my Christmas tree!
But my Christmas tree pushed me into a pit of unpleasant thoughts. It’s the Christmas season once again and the country gets busy, proven by the horrible traffic.
Sadly, this is symptomatic of what Christmas has become: we have owned Christmas as our personal time for revelry.
The trouble with owning something is, we think we can do anything with it—our own way. Yes, we have appropriated Christmas for: our own joy, our own party, our own holiday, our own time to do our happy things like taking a vacation, mounting reunions, shopping for gifts, decorating the home, preparing Noche Buena food, receiving Christmas bonus, buying new outfits, and for me, trimming my tree.
At the backseat of a Christian's mind is that we celebrate Christmas because it is the symbolic date of our Savior's birth. But, really, what is the percentage of this thought in relation to all the other things sold in stores during the season?
In the university where I teach, in lieu of exchange gifts, each faculty member will give a gift to a child somewhere in the slums of Cavite. Well and good. When those gifts are sent over, the kids will naturally think of Christmas as the time for them to receive gifts—again pushing to the back burner the reason for the occasion.
In my neighborhood, one house opens its gate on Christmas Day; the owner gives away food and gifts to anyone who comes around. You should see the long line of people waiting for their freebies under the heat of the sun, or the rain.
The less fortunate among us go on a heyday knocking on doors, declaring, “Namamasko po!” (I have come to collect my gift this Christmas!), as though people owe them. How many organizations go around singing carols, asking for donations—it's fund-raising time!
Driving through villages, you’ll find security guards flailing boxes for money from oncoming vehicles. Every single messenger—from the post office, insurance company, Meralco, to PLDT, leave an envelope to homeowners, expecting it to be filled with cash. And if the homeowner says, “I am sorry,” he murmurs, "Ang kuripot." (How stingy.)
Entitlement. Because we have owned Christmas, we feel we are entitled to receive, to have our own agenda on how to spend it. Naturally the retail business takes advantage of this ownership.
Our Bible history tells us that the very first Christmas—the year Jesus was born—was the opposite of the Christmas that we know today. In the small town of Bethlehem, it was awfully dark. Sleepy shepherds were keeping watch over their flock.
After that Holy Birth, it didn’t get any better. There came the time when all that people heard were woeful sounds of inconsolable mothers, weeping. The magi (which we have erroneously baptized as the three kings) went to Judea searching for the newborn King of the Jews, having "seen His star in the east." They were directed to the small village of Bethlehem. On their way there, King Herod asked them to let him know who this King was when they found Him. What Herod had in mind was an evil scheme—to kill Jesus. He was afraid that this new King would take over his throne.
The magi found Jesus and honored Him, but an angel told them not to go back to Herod, so they returned home by another route. Realizing he had been fooled by the magi, Herod was livid. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and below.
In those dark days, the prophecy in the Old Testament was fulfilled. In Jeremiah 31:15 we read, “A cry is heard in Ramah—deep anguish and bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for her children are gone.”
Our Bible tells us that the very first Christmas, God in all His majesty, became Flesh so that everyone, all sinners, may be saved from the mire of sin. That is the reason for Christmas, which is lost in the hoopla and noble effort to be generous to everyone.
In the Philippines, children trek to the homes of their ninong (godfather) and ninang (godmother) expecting a gift. We wonder whether the reason for all this fuss was ever explained in detail to these children—if at all.
And because we own Christmas, we often hear these words:
“Christmas is for children.” Christmas has been delegated to children.
“The true meaning of Christmas is giving.” This obligates us to give gifts on Christmas.
“It doesn't feel like Christmas." We have assigned Christmas to entertain us.
And then we hear familiar complaints:
“So many calamities—what a terrible Christmas!” “No bonus this year? Oh, it’s going to be a very sad Christmas.” “My husband can’t come home from Dubai, our Christmas won’t be complete.” “Christmas is so expensive.” This one I heard on TV, “Pasko na naman, walang wala ako. Nakakalungkot, wala man lang akong maibigay, maski bagong damit ng mga apo ko.” (It's Christmas again. I am so broke, I can't even give my grandchildren new clothes.)
Indeed, we have sequestered Christmas for our own—and we celebrate Christmas as though it were our own birthday party or blow-out for a job well done. We read on FB many plans for Christmas, we see photos of beautifully decorated homes and planned special food for the Christmas dinner.
Are these things familiar to you? Fruit cake, ham, keso de bola, parol from Pampanga, gift list, Santa Claus, Christmas party, and in the US, mistletoe, Christmas balls and wreaths. We have added so many doodads to Christmas that we have to wade through them to remember its essence. Yes, the definition of Christmas has blurred. Worse, adults and children have their own definition of Christmas.
With other holidays in the year, we focus on the celebration. On Independence Day, we have flag raising ceremonies and wave miniature flags of our country. On Araw ng Kagitingan, we honor our heroes in appropriate ceremonies. On our own birthday, people greet us. On labor Day, Teacher’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, People Power Day, plus all the days invented by marketing men, we focus on the reason for the celebration.
But on Christmas?
Today, there is a growing pressure in Western countries, which has already arrived at SM, to replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." A salesgirl greeted me last week, “Happy Holidays, Ma’am.” I replied, “Merry Christmas! Bakit nawala na si Christ sa Christmas?” (Why did you delete Christ from Christmas?)
“Yun po ang utos sa amin. Kung 'Merry Christmas' daw po, baka may masaktan.” (Our instruction from management, Ma'am, so as not to offend anyone.) Of the 20 cards I received last year, 18 omitted the word Christmas.
People have indeed owned Christmas as their own holiday. Meaning, more and more people are being swayed to the idea that using the word Christmas is no longer politically correct, and therefore, a no-no.
Is political correctness taking precedence over truth?
The truth was, is, and forever shall be. Christmas symbolizes the day the world witnessed the most astounding voluntary act of grace. It was the day the Almighty and sovereign God took upon Himself the form of a Servant.
Yes, the One deserving to be served, revealed Himself as One desiring to serve. It was the day the world witnessed the most genuine act of self-humbling.
So completely, absolutely, totally, thoroughly did our Lord Jesus Christ humble Himself that He surrendered His will to the will of His heavenly Father. More than amazing, the eternal Son of God became Flesh in humble surroundings, was subjected to human parents, dwelt in a modest home, reviled by the very people whom He served, and died between two common criminals with nothing on His back.
On that first Christmas, on that single act of human birthing, God revealed the truth, previously unknown to us, that only through Jesus can man go on living in a glorious eternal home.
Everyone, including hardhearted scientists, or maybe even atheists, cannot deny a Supreme Power through the spectacular things around us: the starry nights, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, the roar of thunder, the depths of oceans, the colors of flowers, and the fury of volcanoes. Then among Christians, the Bible—a divine revelation of God.
But of all the startling revelations of almighty God, none is clearer than God's final revelation of Himself in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How can December 25 (or the day the shepherds heard from heaven), then, not be anything but Christmas?
Jesus came to earth for all men; we can have Him as our own personal Savior if we accept Him in our heart. But we can never own the day amazing Grace was birthed for us on Christmas Day. Only Jesus owns Christmas; we don’t. Although He gave Himself for all of us on Christmas, we should not take the liberty of owning that divine, spectacular day.
Simply believing in the Name of Jesus, born on Christmas, our Savior, Son of God, will birth a new spirit in us. In John 1:12 (KJV), we read, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name . . ."
( Photo credit: Malu Tiongson-Ortiz)