Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy Holidays Musings

With the advent of the Advent season, we once again are faced with the controversies due to referring to the Christmas season as the “holidays”. Retailers, media, you name it – the use of the term “Christmas” seems to be in full retreat. And of course, we evangelical Christians get our stockings all in a knot over this politically correct rejection of the true name and meaning of the holiday, because the name of Christ contained in it is intentionally avoided by the politicHuh? I didn't know He left!ally correct speech police. We seem to see them everywhere, from government leaders who won’t allow manger scenes displayed on public property, to overly sensitive public school administrators expunging any Christmas references from children's programs, to threats of boycotts against retailers who opt for generic holiday terminology in place of Christmas. And then there’s the perennial “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign that seems to be even more prevalent this year, as I see many cars with these magnetic signs attached. More pop-Christian kitsch.

Now, I am not a fan of politically correct speech rules that are so often applied to remove any reference to anything Christian from the public square or the marketplace. In fact, this so-called “tolerance” movement results in the least-tolerant, most exclusionary exchange of ideas in public discourse in the US and the West as a whole that has ever been seen. We do in fact live in a country that enjoys religious freedom of expression, and we as Christians should exercise that right in every way that is appropriate, that the name of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ be made known.

But why is it that we get so cranked up about the name of Christ being ignored at Christmas? I mean, we don’t make any real issue of the unbelieving and anti-Christian world around us ignoring Him, in fact blaspheming Him and His followers the rest of the year. What is it about Christmas that brings out the defender of the faith, or at least the name of Jesus, in so many Christians? Could it be that we feel like Christmas is the one of “our” celebrations that the unbelieving world has always nominally participated in, and now that they are turning into something it’s not we’re upset? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to me.

But let’s think a bit deeper about what we mean when we exhort the world to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Is it more than just retaining the use of the name Christmas rather than “the holidays”? Is it keeping a focus on the birth of Christ as the “reason for the season”, rather than the mass commercial event that it’s become? My point is that even if the largely un-Christian world starts using the term “Christmas” for the holiday, even if those who celebrate Christmas do so with an increased recognition that it is a celebration of Jesus’ birth, how does that really honor Him? How does a sentimental celebration of the birth of Jesus, apart from an understanding of the Person of Christ and the work of Christ, accomplish anything of eternal value? How does that advance His agenda, the Gospel of Christ? How can unbelieving, spiritually dead people giving nominal assent to the name of Jesus and the event that supposedly is celebrated at Christmas be pleasing to God? The plain truth is, they can’t. And if our expectation as evangelical Christians is that this superficial recognition of the name of Jesus somehow glorifies God, or is in any way a testimony or witness to the Gospel, then we are deluding ourselves.

The bottom line is this: the reason we want to “keep Christ in Christmas” in this way is to make ourselves feel more comfortable with the pagan world we live in, more accepted and liked by the decidedly anti-Christian culture that surrounds us. We want to be accommodated, to have a place at the table, to be seen as OK by the world. All of these are desires that are natural, but that are also decidedly un-Biblical. We’ve lost sight of the clear teaching of Scripture that the name of Christ (and His people) will be mocked, degraded, despised.

We need to stop expecting, in fact demanding, that a culture and a world opposed to the real, true Jesus Christ give Him some kind of assent one day out of the year. We need to refocus ourselves on the Christ of Christmas, who is the Christ of the Cross. And we need to be fulfilling His command and commission to us to proclaim His Gospel to any and all as He gives opportunity all year long, for His glory. This is how we keep Christ, not just in Christmas, but in truth.

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