FIRST-PERSON: The manger & the mall

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)--In his book "God With Us: The Miracle of Christmas," John MacArthur relates the following: "I read a haunting newspaper story several years ago about a wealthy Boston family who had a christening party for their new baby. They invited all their friends and relatives to their magnificent home to celebrate the birth of their precious infant. A half-hour into the party, when it was time to bring the baby out for everyone to see, the mother made a tragic discovery. The large bed where she had left the baby asleep was piled high with the coats of the guests. The baby was lying dead underneath the mound, suffocated by the carelessly discarded wraps."

MacArthur goes on to draw a parallel between the horrible scene in that Boston bedroom and the manner in which America's consumer culture "celebrates" the birth of Jesus Christ. "Lost is the realization that Christmas is first of all the birth of the Savior," MacArthur writes. "He is all but forgotten...."

I concur with MacArthur's observation and I struggle with the commercial circus that Christmas has become. I cringed when I walked into our local Wal-Mart in early October and discovered "Christmas" paraphernalia where lawn and garden implements had been displayed just days before.

Those who know me well say I am somewhat of a Scrooge when it comes to America's observance of Christmas. I don't argue with those who make such an assessment. However, I am quick to point out that my reason for "bah-humbugging" is vastly different than the character made famous by Charles Dickens.

Ebenezer Scrooge despised Christmas for purely economic reasons. His miserly mind could not justify pausing, for even one day, from the pursuit of profit. Ebenezer was greedy and selfish. If he could not enjoy Christmas, no one was going to enjoy it.

I, "Scrooge Kelly," struggle with the crass commercialization and increasing secularization of a significant Christian observance. Rather than diminish the celebration, I simply want the Reason for the season to have the starring role He deserves rather than the bit part to which he has been relegated.

In the Northwest where I live, the very word "Christmas" has become taboo. Instead, the term "winter holiday" is used to describe the festivities and commotion that transpire during the Yuletide.

I was once quite bothered by the deliberate shirking of the title "Christmas." When I analyzed the manner in which the masses in America approach the celebration that culminates Dec. 25, it was clear that Jesus Christ was nowhere to be found.

The mall, rather than the manger, has become the center of "Christmas" attention. Songs that extol the romance of winter fill the air, but the glory of the incarnation is muted. And the babe born in Bethlehem has been eclipsed by the ubiquitous shadow cast by Santa Claus.

While I still struggle a bit, I make it through each and every Christmas just fine. Somewhere between the airing of the first Chia Pet commercial (after all these years, we are told, they still make perfect gifts) and the 105th showing of "White Christmas," I realize that I do not need the culture to endorse Jesus' birth.

Whether or not society at large understands or appreciates the impact of Christ's entrance into human history does not diminish its incredible significance. Christmas is the celebration of God's plan to redeem mankind from the curse of sin. Thus it is a remembrance of not only the birth of Jesus Christ, but also His perfect life, sacrificial death and marvelous resurrection.

All the commercialization and secularization in the world can never smother the Eternal Life that was birthed in the manager lo those many years ago. That's a fact I can, and do, celebrate!


Kelly Boggs writes this column weekly for Baptist Press. He is pastor of Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.

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