Is This all the Christmas there is?

There’s a reason ‘the holidays’ leave us longing for something more

by Linda Moore Spencer
(from Moody Magazine Nov/Dec 2001 issue;)

(I’d link to the article but it is no longer available, at least that I can find)

I’M THINKING OF REDESIGNING CHRISTMAS. The whole thing. It’s never worked for me. Even as a child, for me it was a set-up let-down day, with weeks of talk of Santa and of presents and of aunts and uncles and a Christmas goose, and the “Oh yes, and by the way, remember, it’s all about the baby Jesus.” By 4 o’clock on Christmas day, I always wanted to tug somebody’s sleeve and say, “Excuse me, is this what all the fuss has been about?”

The advertisements tell me, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but I don’t buy it. How does a 45-day holiday devoted to buying presents celebrate the Eternal God of all Creation come to earth as man?

Perhaps the best gift of the Christmases I’ve seen is that they stir up in us strong longing, a wistfulness we can’t quite name. After we have opened all the presents, strewn the wrappings out across the floor, our children sit back, look around, and the question asks itself: “Is that it? Is that all there is?” They want more. They should want more. They should not be satisfied with this Christmas that we offer them.

Children hanker after the real thing. We all do. It has occurred to me of late that I sell my children short. I sell my Savior short. I duplicate the Christmases I grew up with: generating hubbub, hanging tinsel, stringing blinking twinkle lights. I buy and wrap so very many things that I lose sight of Christ in the confusion. And in my children’s minds, the Baby Jesus gets buried in the mistletoe and tinsel.

I go back and check just what the Gospel writers do with Christmas. First off, two don’t even mention it. Mark hits the ground running with camel- hair-clad John the Baptist spelling out the reason Christ was born; he baptizes Christ, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. And that’s just the first 12 verses. The Gospel of John starts out with the Word — the Word that is the everlasting King.

I read the other Gospels for hints of Christmas. I find worship and awe, and angels in the heavens, and an old, old man whose first wish is to die, content now that he has seen with his two eyes: Salvation. The shepherds return to the cold, dark hills. The kings go home. There is fear and flight into Egypt, a mass slaughter of newborns, and the unfolding of a story that can only astound us.

There is, I think, a different Christmas we might give our children, a different Christmas we might give ourselves, telling the old, old story a new way:

Saying to our children, “Listen up. You won’t believe it. Are you ready? Hold onto your hats and fasten your seat belts. In this very month, this cold, blank, dark December, a baby is born who is and will be Christ the Lord. This thing that we call Christmas is just the tip of the iceberg, the tiny crack in the cosmos where the God of the universe takes on the size and shape and sorrow of a man and comes to earth. Tonight. Get ready. Pray. Give thanks to God. Listen. Shout hallelujahs.”

Then whisper to them, “Later, when it’s very late, midnight maybe, we’ll all bundle up and drive out to a hillside in the country and we’ll look up at the heavens and sing praises to the Lord our God. Glory to God in the highest! And there’ll be angels. If you listen you can hear them. We’ll wait and listen. We’ll remember and we’ll worship — outside — in the dark of night and think about the Light that came to earth to shatter darkness.”

“Then we’ll go home and we will get a special calendar and mark it with a thick, black magic marker to count the days, through the whole mean month of January, snowy February, March, and sometimes part of April till the day of celebration.Resurrection morning: the triumph of a reason for this dark, cold Christmas night. A night of awe, of expectation, the beginning that opens up the story; that’s the start of promise now to be fulfilled, God’s promise to Israel, God’s promise to you and you and you and me.”

This very Christmas I would love to promise my children to tell them, every day, the story of that Christ child’s life and wonders as He walked the earth.

Together we might count the days, the minutes, through the winter weeks till Lent, and then until the day the whole thing comes together on the morning of the Lord’s triumphant resurrection — victory over sin and death, two long days after dying on a cross the day the earth quaked, wild beasts brayed, the sky went black as night, and men rose up from the dead and walked the streets of town.

And what a fitting Christmas gift: to turn a small child’s awe and wonder, not to flying reindeer and Santas who hang out at shopping malls, but to the glory and the mystery of the Eternal Majesty become a baby in a manger.

What joy to tell them of the holy mystery day, to share anticipation, wonder and dumbfounded amazement that the God of heaven sent His Son to earth — not to remain a baby, but to grow to be a man, to die and rise up from the dead and live forever so that we can, too.

Now that’s a Christmas present.


  1. http://FreeThinker says

    The WINTER SOLSTICE is much older than Christianity, and it is the REAL Reason for the Season.

    Winter Solstice Greetings from San Francisco!

  2. http://Karla says

    I beg to differ, freethinker.

    While the winter solstice is much older than christianity, The Lord God who created the seasons preceeds it all.

    This is the time of year when we Christians will be celebrating the Word becoming Flesh.

    Blessings to you,

  3. http://Cmommy says

    Karla, I have goosebumps! (from the article, not from Anonymous and that comment)

    Christmas was very Christ-centered for me as a child because we went to church at midnight on Christmas Eve. I miss that with our present church. We may just take the children to the hilltop and sing praises!

  4. http://Frass says

    Oh wow, thank you for blogging your thoughts on this. I’ve been pondering the emptiness of Christmas as we celebrate it too.

    My two are 4 and 2 years old, so we’re still building our family traditions. However, try as we might, Jesus still seems to be such an afterthought instead of the Reason.

    Wouldn’t that be something if we did take the little ones outside this year to worship. :)

    I’ll be coming back to check your blog more often.

  5. http://Susanne says

    Karla, this was so well, written. So true, too. Sometimes I have to pull myself up short and refocus. This tidal wave of what Christmas has become just sweeps you up even when a person has the best of intentions on “keeping it real”. I’m sure if we all sat down and thought about it there is a myriad of ways we could actually really focus on Jesus and the amazing gift that He really is.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Karla. It’s been wonderful “getting to know you” in the past few months!

  6. http://Anonymous says

    Studio 360, the weekly public radio show hosted by Kurt Andersen, just a program on “Redesigning Christmas”!

    Check it out:

  7. http://Big%20Mama says

    Karla, this is so wonderfully and powerfully written it gives me chills. You’re right about Christmas often feeling empty because there should be more.

    You’ve given me much to think about in the way we celebrate.

    Merry Christmas, my friend. I wish you a blessed holiday season.

  8. Forty-five day season is what made me stop and think. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? It’s all really about one day.

    Powerful post, Karla. I wish you and your family a blessed Christmas.

  9. Karla, what a beautiful post!

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