I once again find myself in the midst of December internally conflicted.
While I thoroughly enjoy Advent and the ensuing Christmas celebrations that stir a nostalgic concoction of warm memories and tender fellowship, I cannot help but catch a case of the “Bah, humbug’s.” It’s not that I revel in negativity, or remotely desire it. I enjoy spending time with family & friends, looking at the wonderful decorations and watching classic Christmas films. More than all, however, I want to celebrate the coming of Christ and his eventual birth.
So why the negativity you may ask?
My frustration is birthed from the well-meaning words, attitudes and ultimate ignorance of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters. I am not using the word “ignorance” as a slam by any means, so please do not think that I’m name calling from a soapbox. I use “ignorance” because I find that many of my fellow sojourners are unaware of the irony they display from simply repeating catch phrases and “Christian-sounding” cliché’s. This post is a public service announcement as much as it is a venting session, so please bear with me as I attempt to explain my frustrations in a helpful and caring way.
1. Christ is NOT the reason for the season.
This may come as a surprise to many, but the reason for the season it actually our SIN. The only reason for the incarnation (God putting on flesh to be born of a virgin) is to suffer and atone for our sin. This is foundational to Christianity. So while Christmas is about Christ, it must be understood that the reason He came (the reason for Christmas…His incarnation) is to suffer by taking on flesh by becoming one of us (Hebrews 10:4-7). Without our sin, Christmas wouldn’t exist. For those who like catchphrases, I suppose you could say “Christ is the gracious answer to the reason for the season.”
2. Christmas doesn’t start until December 25.
Even though retail stores and radio stations kick the Christmas season off at or before November 1st, Christmas doesn’t start until December 25. Advent, the expectant coming of Christ, is completely skipped in the wake of Christmas marketing by way of emotional nostalgia. As Malachi closes prophetic communication in the Old Testament with the promise of the coming Messiah, Israel inches into spiritual darkness waiting for their coming king. As a nation that had been in historical communion with God through the prophets, the spiritual dry spell between Malachi’s prophecy and the birth of John Baptist was one of desperation with the only hope being in the coming of the Seed of Abraham, the Root of Jesse who is Malachi’s Messenger of the Covenant (Malachi 3:1). Advent, should be a time of faith and contrition in the promise of God as we trust in his sacrificial provision to come into the world and suffer in our place. Advent is a necessary element to preparing for the incarnation of the coming King in whom the promise is fulfilled. Without advent, Christmas is strip-mined of meaning.
3. Stop saying that crucifixes are idolatrous.
This may seem out of place in a Christmas post, but let me explain. I have had many friends and acquaintances within modern American Evangelicalism disparage me for being pro-crucifix. Let me start by saying that being “pro-crucifix” doesn’t mean I am “anti-empty cross” or seek to downplay the resurrection. I celebrate both as both are necessary components for the Christian life. The main argument that I have come across is that crucifixes are idolatrous as they are little icons that take our eyes off of the real Jesus and focus them instead on a wooden idol. I would be the first to say that just as I do not worship an empty cross, neither do I worship a crucifix. Simply put, both are reminders. So the question remains, what does this have to do Christmas? The same friends and acquaintances that disparage and demonize crucifixes seem to have no issue displaying nativity scenes in their churches and homes. This is extremely hypocritical and points back to my first point; our problem with sin. We do not like to be confronted with sin. We crave salvation apart from repentance. It’s our fallen preset. This is readily seen in the affinity for a porcelain baby Jesus in a manger or an empty cross alongside boisterous contempt for a suffering Jesus on a cross. This speaks to the ignorance that many unknowingly display when they fail to see that Christ’s suffering wasn’t limited to the cross. The suffering actually began at the incarnation. God taking on flesh in Mary’s womb is the height of humility and the definition of suffering. Christ gave up everything to take on flesh, live a perfect life and die a cursed death (Deuteronomy 21:23/Galatians 3:13). Therefore, logically speaking, if one opposes crucifixes, then they must also be opposed to nativity scenes. However, consistency has never been a strong suit within American Evangelicalism.
4. Stop rallying against Xmas
The “put the Christ back in Christmas” crowd has been unified against referring to Christmas as “Xmas” for many, many years. The argument is that those who use “Xmas” are taking Christ out of Christmas. This is simply not true. Xmas has been used as an appropriate abbreviation, within the church, for Christmas, since the 16th century. The “X” in Xmas comes from the Greek letter “chi” which is the first letter in Χριστός which is Greek for Christ. So writing “Xmas” is simply the same as writing “Cmas” instead of a secular conspiracy to remove Christ from Christmas.
5. Stop fighting the war on Christmas
Fighting the war on Christmas seems like a perfectly justifiable action. As secularists continue to push for the removal of Christ from the public square, towing the line for Christianity seems quite noble. I am not propagating an anti-evangelistic effort, but what I am saying is that participating in the war on Christmas is counterproductive in displaying love to our neighbor. It seems that more and more Christians fighting the war on Christmas are doing so to the detriment of their intended message. If we were as concerned with saving our neighbor as much as we were about waging a war for Christmas, then we’d be more concerned with the plethora of heterodox teaching filling the halls of our churches on Sunday mornings. We’d be more interested in preaching Christ FOR YOU instead of narcissistically worrying about fitting ourselves into the biblical narrative and doing the latest 5 steps to a healthy marriage program while fighting to maintain cultural status quo. Rallying and picketing the state house for taking down their nativity scene does nothing in the way of sharing Christ with those who desperately need the forgiveness he offers. A nativity scene to a non-Christian is not a remembrance of the incarnation of God Himself that brings forgiveness, but instead a symbolic metaphor for cultural Christians who have no idea what they truly believe forcefully pushing their pseudo Christian message into view at every turn. Let me be clear, I am not against Nativity scenes. I am also not against public property displaying Nativity scenes. What I am concerned about is the attitude that the majority of those waging this war put forth. The concern is more about some plastic statues than it is about actually serving our neighbor. The attitude displayed is win at all cost. The message put forth is one of force instead of one of love and servanthood. We should be collectively less worried about the war on Christmas and more concerned with properly distinguishing law and gospel, preaching sin and grace and promoting repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Focusing on these things will have infinitely more influence than a 30 day display of some plastic figurines displayed on public property.
Concerning the current Christmas climate that we find ourselves in, I understand that this post may come across as insensitive or enraging. I sincerely apologize as I am not attempting to anger anyone who reads this post, although I realize that anger is a possibility. What I am trying to do is encourage thought and research concerning my expressed frustrations. These 5 topics provide a descriptive overview of the internal battle that wages deep within me each and every December. If we truly want to take Christmas back, we must be honest with ourselves by acknowledging our sinful condition and grasping the grace, through faith, that is offered to each and every human ever created, to live through the suffering and sacrifice of Christ Jesus that started at the incarnation, finished on the cross and was proven by His resurrection. Let us all strive to serve our neighbors by loving them through sharing the gospel. That is truly the most loving thing one can do.