From deep in the southern hemisphere, the Zornes would like to wish you and yours a tremendously Merry and joy-filled Christmas! This time of year we hear the jingling bells of the cluttered thinking of our 21st century mind. My concern is that the Church wags its head as it watches our society unfurl a whole gambit of responses and approaches to Christmas. We are first perplexed by the persecution we are facing because the ACLU has once more banned some church’s nativity scene from public property. Then, we are aggravated by the materialism and ridiculousness of our secular society’s attempt to celebrate Christmas (mind you without a mass and without a Christ); this is often accompanied by the politically correct debate over whether it is “insensitive” to wish someone “Merry Christmas” or should we stick to the less offensive “Happy Holidays.” Some try to maintain a Christian mooring during the whole thing, and they have a Christmas play with cute kids, bad theology, classic carols, and hot cocoa afterwards. We are encouraged to remember that Christmas isn’t about the “Ho, ho, ho’s” of some red-suited Santa, but that “Jesus is the reason for the season!”
And so, we have many Christian’s that are left uncertain of how or if they can, or if they should celebrate Christmas. I have watched as Christians have begun to treat Christmas in much the same way they treat Halloween: hands off, hide in the basement, shy away, and duck your head so as not to be seen. However, I would like to submit that Christian’s ought to be the most robust celebrators of this holy-day with the jolliest of grins creasing our faces and unashamedly giving generously to our families, friends, and neighbors.
First I should say, I wish we could change the name of December 25th from Christmas. Gasp! I do not believe in the “mass” at all! Thus, if we could simply drop the “mass” off the end, it leaves us with only Christ, and I think that is something worth celebrating! I have no good proposals for an alternate name, so we’ll stick with “Christmas” for now; but perhaps someday we can call it, “Christ-came Day,” or some such thing. Paul tells us in Romans 14:5, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Thus, there’s nothing more spiritual about celebrating or not celebrating. If you decide to deck the halls this Christmas season, do so as unto the Lord, and if you decide to treat it as just another day, go for it, but as unto the Lord.
Spurgeon was not so fond of celebrating Christmas, nevertheless, he was willing to leverage it as an opportunity to preach Christ. He said, “Still, as the thoughts of a great many Christian people will run, at this time, towards the birth of Christ—and as this cannot be wrong—I judged it meet to use ourselves of the prevailing current and float down the stream of thought. Our minds will run that way because so many around us are following customs suggestive of it. Therefore let us get what good we can out of the occasion. There can be no reason why we should not, and it may be helpful that we should, now, consider the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will do that voluntarily which we would refuse to do as a matter of obligation—we will do that simply for convenience sake which we should not think of doing because enjoined by authority or demanded by superstition!” So, since the thoughts of society are being carried in the direction of Christ, let us hasten them onward!
The grinches of secular society want to rid Christ from every last sector of society; however, they still want to retain some pretense at the whole good-will, peace, love, happiness stuff. They want “peace on earth, good-will toward men (Luke2:14),” but they want it without the Christ-child that brought it! Christ’s Incarnation was heralded as “good tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10).” Christ’s coming is not a reason for dour glumness. Yes, everyday is a celebration of this for a Christian, but part of the Great Commission is to–at every possible opportunity and in each and every season–teach the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). They are attempting a celebration of a hopeless story. The world’s story teaches that we are all descended from a pond slime, which just happened to be there because nothing suddenly blew up and created everything; further, there is no eternity, thus this life is an exercise in futility. Yeah, so happy winter solstice to you too! The saints need not shy away from celebrating, for our celebration is merely the beginnings of the eternal and endless holiday of Heaven’s joys. The world’s celebration lasts, at best, from Thanksgiving to New Years Day; our reveling lasts forever!
Now, many Christians protest that Christmas has become “far too materialistic!” We don’t want to become “carried away” with all the frivolity. Yes, there is plenty of silliness this time of year, mixed with the sickening sweetness of over-baked nostalgia. That’s where all the goofy songs about Santa coming to town with a red-nosed reindeer, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire come from. When the Church fails to preach and teach correctly, the world will soon mistake the pleasures of this earth for all there is. Yet, Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection are that which procured for us joy in this life and the life to come. He has given us all things to freely enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17)! Feasting, family, friends, gifts, evergreen trees, and Wassail all are sweeter when they find their proper place as tools and servants of pleasure Himself!
The whole concern over materialism is rather ironic considering that we are celebrating God becoming a man, deity becoming human, Word becoming flesh. Christians never celebrate mere “metaphysical” events. We celebrate a supernatural, Almighty, divine King stooping to become a frail, fragile, human with actual blood, actual lungs which breathed actual air who eventually died an actual death on actual wood, and was actually buried in an actual tomb, and actually rose with an actual body that could eat actual honeycomb made by actual bees (Luke 24:42); now he truly and actually reigns on high over all creation! His reigning is not merely “metaphysical,” it is displayed by the fact that every atom in all creation is held together right now because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and now that Word rules the universe (Heb. 1:1-3 & John 1:1,14)!
We must learn to give gifts like the Father God gives gifts: all good and all perfect. The gift of the Father? Jesus. The gifts we give? Jesus. Which means giving actual things to those who are actually in need (Matt. 25:40). Who can give unto God as if He needed anything? Yet, we are commanded to be cheerful givers, all year round; and this time of year we ought to be the most generous of people because our God was most generous to us in the person of Christ. The question for Christians is not IF we should give gifts, but rather when? We are called to give generously and in such a way that shows thoughtfulness and love towards our neighbor (which is the person right in front of us); this can happen anytime, but it fits nicely to give gifts in remembrance of the Son which was given (Isa. 9:6).
If the Church does not declare the glad tidings of great joy found in glorifying Christ with our eating and drinking, the world is sure to come up with reasons for partying and it will be to the glory of eating and drinking. We celebrate Christ and Him Crucified in and through our eating and drinking (1 Cor. 10:31); the world just celebrates eating and drinking. The pagans use evergreen trees to worship what they do not know, we thank God for giving us evergreen trees as a reminder of His undying faithfulness and life (Rom. 14:14). I’m not concerned that our secular society will start worshipping Christmas Trees as idols; I think it far more likely that they have built factories for producing idols for themselves in Hollywood, Nashville, Wall Street, and Washington, D.C.
The world once lay in darkness, but the true light has shone (Is. 60:1-3)! That light is the light of men, and it brought a thrill of hope. The lost will always be searching for something to rejoice in, and we have the Glad Tidings to share. In celebrating Christmas, we must recognize that Christmas must not be a flash of generosity in the pan of selfishness. Rather, it ought to be a crescendo of glad-hearted selflessness in the heavenly symphony of the saints’ and angels’ song: worthy is the Lamb! Oh, that precious line from “Oh, Holy Night” says it well:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Indeed, before the One whose head and hairs are white like wool, as white as snow; and whose eyes are as a flame of fire; And whose feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and whose voice as the sound of many waters. And who has in his right hand seven stars: and out of whose mouth goes a sharp twoedged sword: and whose countenance is as the sun shining in his strength (Revelation 1:14-16) we all must, “fall on our knees!” Merry Christmas, and rejoice, for Peace has come through Christ, and the good-will of God is given by grace through faith in His name!