By the time you read this, C. S. Lewis will have been dead fifty years, and I’m sure he’s glad he’ll miss Christmas. It was November 22, 1963, when the Cambridge professor went the way of all flesh: he breathed his last at 4:30 p.m. One hour later, President John Kennedy would be shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.
Clive Staples Lewis was, as one friend put it, thoroughly converted. The literary don surrendered his life to Jesus in his early thirties and became the twentieth-century’s leading defender of the faith. Lewis read deeply and wrote widely. His works include children’s stories, science fiction, apologetics, philosophy, literary criticism, and even the rewriting of Greek mythology. Lewis had a gift for clarity that makes his writing irresistible even a half-century after his death. Jack, as his friends called him, predicted—wrongly—that his fame would be short-lived after his death. Instead, Lewis is more popular than ever, selling more books every year than he did during his lifetime!
But Jack didn’t like Christmas, at least the commercialization of Christmas. He drew a stark distinction between the religious celebration of the birth of Christ and the holiday that goes by the name Christmas. What did he dislike about the latter?
First, he said Christmas gives much more pain than pleasure.
You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to “keep” it… in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out—physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
Second, Christmas as a public holiday is mostly involuntary.
The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?
Third, Christmas compels us to buy silly things for one another.
Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself— gaudy and useless gadgets, “novelties” because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before.
As we approach December 25, I think we can learn from Professor Lewis how to do Christmas in the midst of the so-called rush in a way that honors God and protects our sanity.
First, plan the next few weeks of your life. Get out your calendar and begin filling in some blank spaces: evenings to be reserved for your family and friends; evenings to be reserved for rest, reading and relaxation. If your life is at all like mine, the month of December tends to disappear in the twinkling of an eye. Make a plan for when you will do your shopping, when you will do your Christmas cards, when you will have your Christmas party.
Second, set limits. Limit your spending, limit your hustle and bustle, limit your pace. Set limits on what you will spend on gifts. Tell your friends and family you love them. Use words, not Macy’s. If you are married, ask,How much do we think the Lord would have us spend on presents? Set your limit and stick to that limit. Commit yourself to saying no to buying and giving what Lewis called gaudy and useless gadgets.
Third—and perhaps most important—limit your expectations. Christmas is an exceedingly difficult season for many. As a pastor, I have heard the word difficult used to describe Christmas countless times. Many tell me, annually, that Christmas is a holiday to endure rather than enjoy. The disappointments of childhood and the dysfunction of family life are keenly felt during Christmas. The image of a loving family singing songs by the fire, drinking hot cider, and telling stories of yesteryear is endearing—and rare. Still, at Christmas we wonder why. Why was my family not like others? Why was the singing off tune? Why did my parents divorce? Why was there so much unhappiness in my home? Lower the demands you place on Christmas. Don’t expect the Christmas season to be the home-port of happiness. Realize that every family since Adam and Eve’s is dysfunctional, is something other than heaven on earth. Expect little from Christmas and perhaps you will receive much.
Fourth, observe Advent. It is no small irony that C. S. Lewis, when he went public with his Christian faith, took his first Communion on Christmas! The Oxford don had his priorities right. Christmas was for worship. Indeed, Christmas should be one of the most meaningful seasons of the church calendar. Advent is a time to ponder the beauty of the Incarnation, the mystery of God’s grace, and the miracle of redemption. At Christmas God became one of us so that we might be made like Him. Read and enjoy the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke. Ponder the great Old Testament passages that speak of the coming Messiah. Consider again the giant stoop God took to enter into a loving relationship with you. Set aside time for worship, praise, and adoration. Read the great Christmas hymns. Their theology is among the richest of anything we sing all year. Make a commitment to enjoy all that God has for you this Christmas season. God will be glorified, and you will have found your rest in Him.