The Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are upon us.
I love this time of year. I love the weather (even in Houston), the break from toil, the time with friends and family, and I especially love to live these holidays through the eyes of my little children. I also love to reminisce about celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family when I was growing up. And I love to worship God in the context of these holidays at home, at church, and in my devotional times.
What I don’t love is all the chatter that flies around about the terms we use to describe Christmas. In the weeks ahead, there will be much outrage over the substitution of “Christmas” with “holiday.” There will be bumper stickers, Facebook memes, blog posts, and even sermons from committed believers communicating messages like “Keep Christ in Christmas,” “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” etc. There will be other pithy catchphrases. There will probably be protest movements over the fact that stores and government agencies no longer say “Merry Christmas” but instead, “Happy Holidays.”
Enough emotional energy is going to be generated over this issue in the weeks to come to light a small Midwestern city.
Can we stop?
Let me be blunt. Who cares what the White House calls the big Christmas tree in Washington? Who cares what Wal-Mart employees are or are not allowed to say in greeting their customers in the month of December? Who cares if the county courthouse stops putting a nativity scene out front? It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter because none of that diminishes the meaning of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in the slightest. The political correctness of department stores and government employees has no bearing on either the celebration of the birth of Christ or the significance of that event in human history. Christmas is a holiday celebrated by Christians, and if non-Christian individuals or non-Christian entities do not want to celebrate it, that’s fine.
What does matter is the impression Christians give to those non-Christians during the Christmas season. When Christian folks express outrage over what Christmas is called, or what greeting to use, they are letting the world in on their priority list. They are also letting people in to their attitude toward the culture. Thus, how the term “Christmas” is used around town is of supreme importance; and if the culture substitutes “Christmas” out in favor of another term, then a line has been drawn between “us and them.” How are these impressions consistent with the Great Commission?
Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ, who came into the world to save the lost from the death penalty of sin. The Incarnation is celebrated by people who actually believe that God came in the flesh by being born of a virgin. This event is not celebrated by those who do not believe. That’s perfectly logical and acceptable.
The celebration of Christmas has been utterly corrupted in many ways by the culture. Everyone knows that. One way it has been corrupted is that it has become a civil religious holiday. That is, the celebration of Christmas has the American God as its referent, and commercialism as its method.
When the state and the marketplace abandon this form of Christmas, and substitute it for some amorphous, inclusive, civil religious season that has vacation days and consumption as its identifying marks, I would say that’s a good thing. Why should Christians desire that the celebration of God’s Incarnation in Christ be specially identified with those things?
If we Christians want to keep Christ in Christmas, the way to do that is to make the Incarnation of Christ the focus of our celebration. We should not insist that non-Christians celebrate, or even recognize, our celebration of the Virgin Birth. We should see the secularization of Christmas in the culture as a way to clarifythe meaning of Christmas—and welcome that secularization with open arms! The secularization of Christmas liberates us to reject the idolatry of civil religion and the various forms of the corruption of Christmas. We ought then to share the good news of the Incarnation with non-Christians, and do so in sincere love.
The non-Christian world will know us by our love and our accurate and authentic communication of truth; they will not know us by our sloganeering and protests.