Christmas for the fun of it
The Dutch theologian Arnold Van Ruler once suggested that God created the world “for the fun of it.” We tend to think of God as a God who “works” or who “uses” creation to achieve higher purposes. But the psalmist sings of a God who created even the great sea monsters out of a sense of sheer fun and playfulness: “There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number….There go the ships and Leviathan, which you formed to play there” (Psalm 104:25-26).
We find it easy to talk about serving God. We find it easy to talk about doing God’s work. But the season of Advent is a reminder that God takes pleasure not only in our work, but also in our play; not only in our religiosity, but also in our innate capacity for joy.
At Christmas we respond to God with a huge outpouring of celebration and festivity. We sing the songs we learned as children; we tell the children stories about the angels and Baby Jesus. We eat and drink together all day, laying out more food than we can possibly eat. We sit around a tree draped in tacky decorations. We sing songs about snow and winter, even if it is forty degrees outside.
That is Christmas: and it is, in my opinion, perfectly wonderful.
Yet among Christians, one sometimes notices a certain pedantic murmuring against Christmas by the second week of December. It is easy to approach Christmas with an air of weary cynicism; as if we are reluctantly willing to celebrate Christmas even though we really know better. Or it is easy to adopt the attitude of a crusader with the task of reforming Christmas, purifying it from contaminating influences, bringing everything up to an acceptable standard.
Perhaps we think we have to “use” Christmas to achieve some higher moral purpose. But the whole point of Christmas is to show that sometimes “enjoying” a thing is more important than “using” it. Sometimes play is more important than work. Sometimes feasting and festivity are more important than purity and correctness.
The church is called not only to proclaim Christ, but also to celebrate Christ; not only to serve God, but also to play in God’s presence; not only to strive for justice in the world, but also to bless the world with signs of joy and festivity. That is why the Christian year is structured around feast days – those great days when everything suddenly erupts in celebration.
On days like Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, the church serves the world not by lecturing it or trying to improve it (there are 362 other days for that!), but by drawing it into an environment of celebration and joy.
To celebrate Christmas for the sheer fun of it, and to show the world what celebration really looks like – that is our holy calling on Christmas day. When we celebrate like that, the glad sound of “rejoicing in heaven” (Luke 15:7) merges with our festivities. The world is blessed when it hears that heavenly sound and discovers that the real secret of life is God’s love and God’s delight.
And we ourselves are blessed when we bring our gifts of celebration only to find, like the magi, that the real gift is not the thing we have given but the thing we have received.
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