Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Christmas 2009

Bumping into a good friend at Cookin’ Stuff, she conveyed a frustration she was experiencing this Christmas season—she couldn’t find any Christmas cards. There were plenty of cards out there. Greeting card companies aren’t going to miss out on the grand capitalistic opportunity which apexes this time of year. But the cards weren’t specifically about Christmas.
She found cards mentioning the holidays but not which ‘holy’ day. Cards abound where she was greeted by the season with no mention of why the season existed or what made it a season at all. Plain and simple, it was her experience that the first syllable in the word Christmas was evaporating.
I took a poll. I began asking people about the meaning of Christmas—I felt like Charlie Brown. Answers ranged from “It’s a time for family” to “It’s when we give gifts to one another” or a very generic “It’s a holiday.” Christ is being systemically removed from Christmas. It’s as if we’re comfortable with any greeting so long as Jesus is excluded.
Even at the lighting of the White House Christmas tree we heard a redefinition of what it all means. President Barack Obama announced that “It represents a tradition that we celebrate as a country—a tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity to our fellow citizens.” Brotherhood and generosity are admirable, but Christmas represents the birth of Christ—specifically.
So why the headlong pursuit to remove Jesus from Christmas? Even references to God are acceptable, just not Jesus. There seems to be something about the name Jesus that upsets people. As I sit here in Starbucks I can imagine mentioning God in normal conversations with people without them getting all uncomfortable with me. Mentioning Jesus is almost always followed by termination language—“Well, have a good day.”
God can be so harmless when undefined. There are all sorts of gods out there who are happy to be enjoyed or ignored. But Jesus taught that we’re either for Him or against Him. He is not to be ignored. When people start talking about Jesus you know they have a specific God in mind. God is not wax nose we can twist to our liking but the God who has a rightful claim to our very lives. This Jesus becomes inconvenient to an increasingly secular society desiring undefined leadership. This Jesus has to go, and this holiday which bears His name is a pesky hurdle.
Twenty-first century America is trying to accomplish just the opposite of what Constantine accomplished the fourth century when he turned pagan holidays in Christian holidays. Constantine believed the most effective way to Christian-ize a society was to create seasons or holidays which would be observed on a regular basis; these events would then be absorbed into the very fabric of their culture. As an emperor Constantine didn’t have to be subtle; he simply made it the law.
The approach used to extricate Christ from Christmas is much more subtle—insidious might be a better word. Just seize the language and make it mean something different—“These are not the droids you’re looking for.” How are Christians to respond to this cultural effort to evacuate Christ from the building?
For one, there needs to be a continual reminder of what the birth of Christ stands for. The eternal Son of God became flesh and blood to save sinners. The Father provided a body for the Son to do the Father’s will, which was to die on a cross to pay the price for sin and delivers souls from death. This is what the Bible calls the gospel or the good news. It does seem sad how hard people work to eradicate good news; perhaps nothing testifies more deeply to the corrupt nature of the human heart.
Secondly, the church needs to recognize that it is not the primary responsibility of the culture to contend for the faith; it is the church’s responsibility. Strictly speaking the only true holiday for Christians is the Lord’s Day or a weekly Sabbath where God’s people gather to worship. The gospel is to be faithfully presented in these settings as a message of hope and joy.
It is when churches are set aflame with the hope of Christ—of Immanuel (God with us); a genuine godly prosperity will begin to set its dew upon cultures surrounding those churches. When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God foretold the response of the surrounding nations: “For what nation is there that has God so near to it…what great nation is there that has such statues and righteous judgments as are in all this law?
Is Jesus the reason for the season? He’s the reason for any season.