Have Yourself a Riotous Little Christmas

The week of Christmas has arrived as usual, in all of its excess and finery—cookies are abundant in quantity and variety, gift exchanges are in overdrive (The kids need how many gifts for different events this year? I’m not sure I have another white elephant or ugly sweater left in me!), and here in Minnesota, even the weather is being a little “extra.” 

But in my family, being a little extra at Christmas is all a part of the celebration. In fact, it’s pretty much how we roll. 

A young man recently visited our home, surveying its multiple Christmas trees (five in various sizes is the present count) and twinkling lights around every corner and inquired, “Where do you keep all of this stuff?” I feel a little sheepish when I think about it, but it’s true. Our home is adorned with merriment everywhere, from a collection of Christmas dishes at the dinner table and a kitchen drawer stocked with Christmas dish towels to special soaps, candles, and even bathroom decor. 

His question, while not asked with negative intent, made me stop and think, as little Cindy Lou Who mused to her dad in the live action movie version of The Grinch, “You and mom and everyone getting all kerbobbled . . . doesn’t this seem . . . superfluous?”1 (Speaking of which, watching and profusely quoting that film at Christmas is one of our approximately twelve thousand family traditions.)

Doesn’t it? Seem superfluous, I mean? 

Riotous Praise

Maybe not. You see, I have a theory: I don’t think Christians can over celebrate the birth of Jesus the King.

The thought first came to me last month when my ladies’ Bible study was immersed in Psalm 33. As a person who loves music, I was particularly captivated by verses 1–3: 

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous ones;
praise from the upright is beautiful.
Praise the LORD with the lyre;
make music to him with a ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song to him;
play skillfully on the strings, with a joyful shout.

As we considered the progression from beautiful praise to praise with the lyre, to praise with a ten-stringed harp, to singing a new song, to playing skillfully on strings, then finally a joyful shout, a friend described the scene as one of “riotous praise.”

Riotous praise. Before you conjure up fiery images of ransacked buildings, violence, and over-excited debauchery, I’m not talking about that kind of riotous. Take a look at the second definition of the word: “ABUNDANT, EXUBERANT,” and its sample sentence: “The garden was riotous with flowers.”2 Does that help? Picture so many flowers it’s almost obnoxious. What business has a single garden producing so many exquisite blooms?!?

Now back to Psalm 33, What business do sinful people have in singing such exuberant praise? It turns out they (we) have every business, because we’re forgiven, saved, and redeemed by the God who made the heavens by His Word and “all the stars, by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).

After the Blank Page

Fast forward in your Bible about a thousand years from the penning of Psalm 33 and you’ll find that the riotous praise died down a bit. In fact, you’ll find the deafening silence of what Robert Wolgemuth wrote about recently: the blank page in your Bible.

This empty page represents a waiting people. For 400 years. A nation pacing back and forth . . . hoping, longing, impatient. "Where IS our Savior?" they must have whined a million times.

You and I have things written on our prayer lists; requests that have not been answered. Or things we wish would go away. And they don’t. We’re waiting. It feels like God is late.

Christmas is nothing if not a bold reminder that the Savior has come. He is here. No more waiting.3

Imagine! After some 400 years of silence, as the events retold in the early chapters of the Gospels began to unfold, the blank page became a thing of the past—a mere footnote in the annals of biblical history. And with the helpless cry of a virgin-born babe, a sequence of events was set in motion that would rewrite—and “re-right”—all of history, forevermore.

I don’t know what it looked like for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (or their scribes) to sit down with pen in hand and the Holy Spirit in heart and begin to write, but in my mind’s eye their words are emblazoned with fire after so many years of the cold, blank page:

  • “An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham . . . ” (Matt. 1:1)
  • “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. . . . ” (Mark 1:1)
  • “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us . . .” (Luke 1:1)
  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . ” (John 1:1)

After four centuries of silence, their words ushered in a New Testament of new life, the redemption of the blank page for all time. All because of the One we celebrate at Christmas. All because of Jesus the King. If there were ever a cause for riotous celebration it must—it must—be this. 

What Can We Give Him?

You might be asking how the trappings of Christmas have anything at all to do with the Baby in the manger or His Father on high. Five Christmas trees . . . an extra hundred dollars added to the electric bill . . . presents and cookies and programs and parties . . . what does any of it mean to God? After all, even the Grinch acknowledged that Christmas “came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.”4

It turns out he was exactly right about that. There is absolutely nothing about decorations, celebrations, and gifts that can add to the splendor of God sending His only Son to save His people from their sins. There’s nothing we can give Him in return. So why celebrate at all? 

We celebrate, we feast, we give good gifts at Christmas because God gave us the best gift when He sent Emmanuel to be God with Us. 

Each December, our family makes its way (usually in fits and starts) through an Advent devotional, and this year we’re reading Good News of Great Joy by John Piper. Inspired by the magi, he answers the question of why we might give gifts at Christmas this way: 

God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything (Acts 17:25). The gifts of the magi are not given by way of assistance or need meeting. It would dishonor a monarch if foreign visitors came with royal care packages. . . .

Gifts given to wealthy, self-sufficient people are echoes and intensifiers of the giver’s desire to show how wonderful the person is. In a sense, giving gifts to Christ is like fasting—going without something to show that Christ is more valuable than what you are going without. 

Of course we cannot give anything to God or others that would adequately thank Him for what He has done for us. But when we give generously to others, when we deck the halls of our homes, when we spend precious hours and funds preparing a Christmas feast, we are saying that there is Someone worthy of celebrating. That King Jesus is more valuable than whatever we’re sacrificing for the sake of the celebration. 

What Abouts and Even Ifs

Like every good gift, even holiday celebrations with the best of intentions can go awry in the face of sinful excess, greed, gluttony, and a host of other vices. Even Christians can lose sight of the meaning of the season. But that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate. It means we continually submit to the Spirit’s control and work diligently to share with our children, friends, and neighbors the true reason for our Christmas joy. 

Then there are the seasons when, due to financial hardship, grief, illness, job loss, pregnancy loss, or you-fill-in-the-blank, cheer is hard to come by. Gifts lack luster, the family table holds an empty chair, happy family photos smiling down from the refrigerator sting.5 If that’s you, the celebration might look different this year. That’s okay; just remember, there’s reason for you to celebrate too. It’s often in the worst of times that we experience our deepest longing for Immanuel. And whether we feel it or not, He’s as near as ever: God with us. 

The Mistake We Cannot Make

There are a few mistakes we can make this Christmas. We can spend too much and thank God too little. We can deck the halls of our homes but leave barren the halls of our hearts. We can give in order to receive, rather than out of gratitude for what’s already ours in Christ. We can fail to share with friends and family who are stuck in the hopelessness of the blank page that a new chapter has been written—one that begins and ends with grace. 

But one thing we simply cannot do is celebrate Christmas with too full a heart. We cannot get too excited about the fact that the God of Heaven sent His Son to this world to be born in a manger, live a sinless life, bear the Father’s wrath for sinners on the cross, be buried under the weight of our transgressions, and be wonderfully, gloriously resurrected three days later. We can’t talk about it enough; we can’t celebrate it too much. 

Rejoice, believers! God with Us is here! If ever there was a moment for riotous praise, this is it. 

 

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Universal Studios, 2000).

2 “Riotous Definition & Meaning,” Merriam-Webster, accessed December 19, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/riotous.

3 Robert Wolgemuth, “Why Your Bible May Have a Blank Page in It and What It Means for You,” Fox News (FOX News Network, December 4, 2022), https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/blank-page-bible-what-means-for-you.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (London: HarperCollins Children's Books, 2016). 

John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 59.

About the Author

Laura Elliott

Laura Elliott

Born and raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Laura Elliott and her husband, Michael, now call Minnesota "home." In addition to being the mother of five sons and one daughter, Laura is a writer, editor, and the marketing content manager for … read more …


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