Yesterday was Christmas Day.
Throughout the Western world, the twenty-fifth of December was marked by several things: a wholesale slaughter of turkeys; an infestation of mutant LED-lit reindeer and inflatable fuzzy old men; a tremendous transfer of small finances (the average Canadian spends over six hundred dollars on Christmas gifts); and so forth. Everyone knows the harrowing effects of indulging in a little too much holiday spirit.
But another notorious thing about our most notorious festival is its ability to bring people together. All sorts of people, from far-flung places, of widely varying status, of infinitely varying personality. People who couldn’t get along with each other at any other time of year will gladly load their plates together on Christmas Day.
What part of Christmas gives it this consolidating power? It’s probably a combination of multiple factors. Few people don’t enjoy a great meal once in a while (not to mention all those mysterious things wrapped in pretty paper). Even those who don’t think much of such excesses can enjoy the music, or the weather—Anybody else excited by the white Christmas he had this year?—or something. A lot of people are willing to bear with things for a day or two that they’d be hard-pressed to endure over the span of a year.
And of course, a lot of people are reluctant to break into fights on a day that still harks faintly to the singing of angel heralds, the prayers of humble shepherds, the exotic gifts of foreign rulers, the pride of a mother and the love of the Father. The birthday of a Saviour, to be exact, and the incarnation of Love.
Why can’t we have Christmas every day?
It’s not that we need three hundred sixty-five helpings of turkey per year, or that we need to give each other useless little trinkets more often, or that sitting on Santa’s lap makes us better people. But we do need each other. Everybody needs somebody. And the way we come together at Christmas is a beautiful thing.
Near the top of this post, I made a wry reference to holiday spirit. The truth, though, is that the Saviour Whose birth we celebrated yesterday has given us a much more powerful Spirit—a Spirit, in fact, with the power to unify us permanently.
Since I last posted here (and I’m sorry it’s been so long; I intend to post more often in the future), I’ve been to Michigan for a one-week Bible camp. That’s a long story that I don’t intend to tell here. But one of the greatest things I was able to experience there was the very unifying Spirit I’m talking about. At the beginning of the week, I didn’t know anybody—most of us campers felt a little out of our league. But that didn’t keep God from bringing us together in amazing ways, opening us up to each other, freeing us to pray together, worship together, simply be together.
In Christ we are all brothers and sisters—we ought to be one big happy family. May I suggest that a family with no serious relationships is incredibly dysfunctional? Yet so often our churches are oriented exclusively to individualist agendas, and far too many members of the Family are slipping away because they have no relationships.
I’d like to set some theology straight in all our minds. I don’t have space to go into a lot of detail here (though I’ll undoubtedly come back to these topics in future posts), so I’m going to be quick and blunt.
First, Christmas Day isn’t your birthday. Jesus didn’t come for you. He didn’t die for you. He came and He died for everyone and for everything—the whole creation that is currently sweating and groaning under a painful curse. He came to set us all free.
Second, you cannot thrive alone. The apostle Paul uses the illustration of a body: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you'” (I Cor. 12:21). Every single Christian is an equally valid, equally valuable part of this body.
Finally—and obviously—the unity I’m talking about cannot benefit you. It can only help us. Brotherhood involves giving things up, letting things go, for the sake of community.
But that’s not the end of the story. This is the Christmas season, after all, and there are some gifts under the Tree.
God gave Haggai a tough message to some tough people. These people had been through a lot. They’d just suffered seventy years of oppression. Then, by God’s grace, they’d been released to go back to their own land, and they’d gone joyfully. But it didn’t take them long to forget everything they’d learned while they were gone. The people that had come back from Babylon had stood together, had worked together, had rebuilt the wall of their city in an astounding fifty-two days. But they’d lost focus. They’d given up on community, they’d gone back to pursuing their own ends, they’d decided God’s house wasn’t important. And God wasn’t happy about it.
So He sent Haggai. The prophet had a burden for brotherhood, a burden for a new focus on God among his people. He explained why life had turned so tough on them:
Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes….You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house (Haggai 1:5,6,9).
Then the people gathered together, like the family of God that they were, and built His house. It wasn’t much. The new temple didn’t look like a hill of beans compared to Solomon’s. But God promised that He would bless community:
My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not….The treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts….The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:5,7,9).
I just can’t get over how powerful community is, and how important it is to God and to His people. Where two or three are gathered in God’s name, He is there, remember? And where God is, great things happen.
Planning to make a list of resolutions for Monday? Put intentional community near the top. You will be profoundly blessed—mark my words—by the things God does for us.