Tuesday, December 25, 2012


No Zeal for the Christmas Wars

Merry Christmas!  As we all know, December 25th was the day on which three East Coast wise guys and Frankenstein came home from the mall with gifts of gold and myrrh--whatever that is--to put it under the tree while the Little Drummer Boy played "Happy Birthday Jesus."

Or something.

I have a visceral reaction against two of the church's perennial Christmas features:  culture wars and cliches.  Think:  "Put Christ back in Christmas!" and "Jesus is the Reason for the Season!"  I try to restrain my viscera when I hear things like this, in part because I assume the speaker is speaking from honest concern.  But while I quite enjoy the Christmas celebration, I don't think the church's time is best spent engaged in the religious angst associated with this holiday.

For one thing, I think the Christmas Wars are a sideshow.  The church could win today's battle over Christmas and lose the real war being waged for the souls of men.  I can almost imagine Satan relishing the great tactical deception he's deployed ... if he can get the church all spun up over the religious and cultural significance a single day in late December, he can distract us from our more important work.

But isn't Christmas worth fighting for?  Eh, yes and no.

To put this question in context, we should ask why Christians celebrate Christmas at all.  It is a holiday of dubious Scriptural and historical origin. There no clear biblical mandate for setting it aside, and no evidence the first Christians did so.  About the only thing we know about whether Jesus was born on December 25th is that we have a 1 in 365 chance of being right--rounding down for leap year.  Moreover, many of the trappings we surround it with have likely been adapted from ancient pagan practices.  Some churches go further, believing that to celebrate it runs afoul of the implicit message of Galatians 4:10, in which Paul chastises the Galatian Christians for their regard for Jewish holy "days and months and seasons and years!"  

On the other hand, the Incarnation of Christ is certainly an event worth remembering, if we are able to see it through all the glitter:
The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man--that the second person of the Godhead became the ‘second man’ (1 Cor. 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that He took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human…  
It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. 
And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.
- J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 53. (Hat tip:  Tolle Lege)
So absolutely let the church rejoice in this staggering truth ... and if this season in December helps recall it to mind, I say let the bells ring!  But let's also remember that this truth--rather than this particular holiday or these songs or the creche in the public square--is what is central to our faith.  The modern American Christmas Wars are really cultural more than spiritual.  We understandably desire the restoration of a more reverent society, and this seems well worth fighting for.  Those of us who are distressed to see our culture swallowed up in secularism, materialism and political correctness see this as a battle worth winning.

But ultimately, it is still just a sideshow, and potentially a distraction ... and potentially an opportunity to be obnoxious.  I was driving home with a couple of commuters in the car and had my radio tuned to the local Christian radio station when this song came on, complete with the strident "Put a helmet on!  It's my country too!" background commentary:

I turned it off.  I was embarrassed.  It wasn't the message so much as the tone.  I don't believe the church best represents the gospel with an in-your-face aggressiveness concerning our cultural shibboleths.  Our mission and our message it's not about preserving the Ghost of Christmas Past, it's about Christ--pre-existent, incarnated, slain, resurrected, reigning forever.  That's why I largely take a pass on the Christmas Wars.

Is Jesus the Reason for the Season?  Yes, but that's because He's the Lord of every season.  Should He be put back in Christmas?  Yes, but only because He ought to be central to our very existence.

Merry Christmas to you, and may the King of Kings and Lord of Lords fill your hearts in this--and every--season!


  1. It's a Christendom thing. Think of it as a 1500-year object lesson on what the Kingdom of Heaven is not that the church still doesn't get. However, like all things, it has worked and is working for good to those who love God, including the good of some pretty obtuse ones who love Him. Let's all pray that the church will learn that Christ meant it when He said His kingdom was "not of this world", and content itself with praying for the culture around us, and instructing it for its own good, out of a sincere desire that they be preserved so that they may be saved (1 Tim. 2:1-2), and then to wipe off her face the spittle she will get in return, and thank God for the privilege of suffering in Our Lord's Name. And then also, on December 25, rejoice in OUR holy day.

  2. Is it OK for me not to listen to the linked video. (If you couldn't take it, how much less could I?)

  3. Amen! Lock this in!

    "Should He be put back in Christmas?" As if any mortal actually could put Christ here or there - in or out. Silly idea, actually. The only thing we can put anywhere is the god of our own creation, and it matters not what it looks like, a cute lil chubby thing with golden curls, a fat man in a red suit, or a golden calf. We may put 'our' things wherever we choose and then return them to the boxes labeled Christmas deco or whatever. I have grandchildren and (knowing what I know now) am tempted to do the christmess thingy very differently. But then it's silly me again, sitting on the it's-my-way-or-no-way throne, needing to remember what the Presbyter has noted: that 'it' has worked and is working for good to those who love God, including the good of some pretty obtuse ones who love Him. Let's all pray... and recall that it is He who has and will put anything or anyone in or out according to His good will and purpose.



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