By Jeff Kilmartin Pastor, Wiesenthal Baptist Church
It is easy to be cynical about Christmas, and I totally get it. When we look at the origins of all the Christmas traditions that we hold so near and dear, one can get rather suspicious of it all. Today of course it is an easy matter to google “Christmas Traditions,” with perhaps the addition of the word “origins,” and whole masses of information will come oozing out of the computer screen.
When we do explore the origins we begin to learn about the Saturnalia, the winter solstice, Druids, Scandinavian paganism, fertility rites, and all manner of mythological paraphernalia that seem to have precious little to do with the birth of the Lord Jesus in the town of Bethlehem. The next step is to go on to the absorbing study of how these things became associated with Christmas, and how the ritual of, say, the Christmas tree came to be recognized as a Christian symbol. All very fascinating and interesting, but – as I said – it can easily lead to cynicism about the central event itself.
Cynicism is not a good attitude with which to look at the world, however, because it tends to blind us to some needed realities. Christmas actually serves as a great narrative arc for millions of such realities. Let me take my own story as “Exhibit A.”
Prior to becoming a Christian at age 21, I was engaged in a life of pride, greed, lust, hatred, anger, lies, and God only knows what else. I had done some pretty bad stuff, and inwardly was filled with even worse. Then I heard the good news that I did not have to live with all that stuff anymore – that God could free me from my sinfulness through Jesus. I not only heard it, but I believed it was true and chose to become a Christian. When that happened I became a “new creation;” those sins were forgiven, and I had the spirit of Christ put in me. I did not try to clean myself up somehow – that would be impossible – but the Spirit of Jesus cleaned me up from the inside out.
All of the things I did prior to then are still a part of my story. If you talk to my mother or any of my siblings I am sure they can tell you lots of bad stories about me. No matter. Today I am a Christian man and I am doing my best to live the way Jesus wants me to live – God helping me.
Christmas is a picture of that for all of us. All those pagan symbols are part of our lives before Jesus came along. But they have now all been re-created and given new meaning and significance in Christ; they have been “Christianized,” and are now used when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is no different from any individual who becomes a Christian. All that old stuff is still in our lives – you can fact-check our origins if you wish. But when Jesus comes into a person’s life it all fades into the background; we are made new. No one denies that we lived that old life, and that we did all those bad things. But they are just part of the story; they are what has been forgiven and forgotten by God.
This is the reality that Jesus came to give us; that despite our past we can be made new by the babe who was born in the town of David.
The Pipestone Flyer has invited pastors and reverends from local churches to write a regular column for the paper.