Over the years, I’ve encountered an amazing number of people who have decided not to celebrate Christmas. They’ve been taught it was designed after a pagan holiday. Or they say that nobody knows when Jesus was born, so it’s hypocritical to celebrate on December 25.
It is true, of course, that we don’t know exactly what day Jesus was born. But the fact is, we don’t know it wasn’t December 25! At issue isn’t which day, but that there ought to be some day. And Christmas on December 25 is the day that has been celebrated for a long time.
Many people were raised in a “good Christian home” where they were told, “We don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s commercial, and it compromises the truth of the gospel and who Jesus really is.” And built into them is a deep resentment toward anything that has to do with church and God and Christ and the Bible. Sadly, they pass that along to their kids.
In other cases, it’s not that people don’t like Christmas, but the season carries with it certain demands that may cause them to heave a sigh and think, “Celebrating the season is going to be a lot of work.” If we have a family and kids, there’s the decoration of the house and the tree, plus shopping for and wrapping presents. There’s extra cooking that goes on, invitations to the homes of friends and special events at the church.
Then there are those who have painful recollections that surround the season—perhaps a family member died on Christmas Day. Those emotions can disable a person’s open reception to the beauty and blessings of Christmas.
Years ago, I decided I would never allow myself to come to Christmas on the basis of the status quo, but that I would let the fresh joy of this season infuse my spirit, along with a child-like expectancy. Making a decision like that requires refusing another order of spirit—the “bah-humbug” attitude or “Scrooge spirit” that dampens delight and reduces our sense of animation, expectation and welcome of the Lord and His season.
Herod, the Original Grinch
The Scrooge spirit is exemplified in Herod, who was, in fact, the original Grinch. Just as the Grinch took away things that represented the season, Herod sought to kill the Christ-child who, as we say, is the reason for the season. He didn’t succeed, but he is the very picture of duplicity and self-centeredness.
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” —Matthew 2:7-8
Herod didn’t want to find out where the Christ-child was so he could come and worship Him; he wanted to find out so he could kill Him. Herod asked when the wise men saw the star because he wanted to calculate the age of this potential heir to the throne that he presently occupied. Herod knew the promise of Messiah and realized that His birth could mean the loss of his own place of authority.
So let’s identify the Scrooge spirit: It’s any stance toward Christmas that either rejects it or attempts to kill it.
Christmas provides us with a marvelous opportunity to touch the world with the love of God. The good will that rises at Christmas did not generate out of a vacuum. People who don’t even understand the love of God in Jesus Christ often get more generous and thoughtful at Christmas time; they become vulnerable to the tenderness of the season. I don’t think that comes upon the world by accident. I think that God honors the fact that there are hosts of His people who come into the season and open themselves, reaching out to others by the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the true Spirit of Christmas.
So, with that in mind, here are six ways to refuse the Scrooge spirit.
1. Refuse to let “the times” depress you.
In Matthew 2, verse one refers to ” … the days of Herod the king.” These are days of dismal influence and oppressive rule. The first thing to do in refusing the Scrooge spirit is to refuse to let “the times” depress you. Our world is abundant with “bad news,” and on a personal level, there are always things that will try to taunt, tempt and trap you into not wanting to receive Christmas.
2. Refuse to let puzzling surprises stop you.
In verse two, the wise men ask: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
When they arrived in Jerusalem, the wise men had every reason to expect that was where the King of the Jews would be. But not only was there a non-Jewish king on the throne, nobody knew what they were talking about. The lesson? Don’t let puzzling surprises stop you. There will be things that happen that you weren’t counting on. But no matter what those things are, come to Christmas and open up broadly to its celebration.
Here is the good news: “To you today is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” It’s trumpeted from the hillsides by angels, and it calls us to open to the spirit of celebration, even beyond things that are puzzling. You and I are going to bump into something surprising along the way to Christmas that has the potential to obstruct or reduce our readiness to pursue the season. We have to make up our minds, just as the wise men did when they were told that no one knew what they were talking about: I have come to worship the King.
3. Refuse to just know where to find the King. Go there.
I’ve always been amazed at the capacity of the scribes to give a specific answer on the basis of Scripture about where the promised Messiah would be found. They knew where He would be born and to expect the sign of a star.
The scribes were the scholars of the community who knew the Scriptures inside out. So when the wise men came saying, “We’ve seen His star in the East,” any scribe would know there was a prophecy about that. The wise men said, “We’ve come to see where the King is born.” And the scribes responded, “Well, this isn’t the place, but we can tell you where He’s born because of what the Scriptures say.” So the wise men headed off, but the scribes, who represented the community’s spiritual leadership, did not go with them.
The lesson? You can know everything about the season; you can even know Who is the centerpiece of the season. You can have scriptures that tell you what is the appropriate approach to the season, which is to come and worship the King, and still not go there. So we have to refuse to simply know where to find the King—we have to decide we are going there to Him.
4. Refuse to doubt that God is ready to manifest Himself in unlikely places.
The scribes told the wise men to go to Bethlehem. Yet Bethlehem of that day was nothing but a little burg. It would have been like Nazareth. Remember how it was said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Bethlehem was obviously lacking in amenities, as Joseph and Mary found out. But the wise men were told that Bethlehem was where they would find the King, so that’s where they went. The lesson? As I come into this season, I need to make up my mind that God is ready to manifest Himself in unlikely places.
Watch for the Lord to make your Christmas in situations that would seem exactly opposite to your expectations. The wise men not only came to a town that didn’t offer high promise, they were directed to a barn where they found a Baby—a Child of poverty—wrapped in rags, in a manger where animals were eating. And there they lavished upon Him the gifts they had brought. The lesson? Be willing to give yourself away in an unlikely place, where nothing is what you would expect.
When you do, I guarantee that you will find yourself saying, “Never has there been a Christmas like this one!” When we resist the Scrooge spirit, we will find the Holy Spirit of God working in our lives.
5. Refuse to diminish joy.
When the wise men came toward the town, the Bible says, “They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” I don’t know how you rejoice with “exceedingly great joy.” It could have just said they rejoiced. Or it could have said they rejoiced joyfully. But it says they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
The terminology describes men of learning, accomplishment and resource who traveled anywhere from 700 to 1,000 miles. It probably took them two months to get there. They have come with an earnestness of spiritual quest, and when they see the star, they rejoice with exceedingly great joy. If you think you are too sophisticated to rejoice with exceedingly great joy, get over it!
6. Refuse to be other than totally giving of yourself.
Finally, we’re told, “Being divinely warned in a dream … they departed for their own country another way” (Matthew 2:12). The wise men were warned by an angel not to go back and tell Herod, so they returned home a different way.
I, too, want to leave Christmas different from how I come into it.
To do that is to refuse to be dominated by the Scrooge spirit—by the times, by the unpredictable or by things that don’t likely hold promise. It means not being caught up in the habits of human approach, but being captivated by the promise of God’s King, and to come to worship Him.
This Christmas, loved one, let’s refuse to be tempted by the Scrooge spirit. Let’s move with exceeding joy into the place where we say, “Lord, I’m not only here to worship You, but I want to depart from this season different from the way I entered it.”