So this is Christmas
© 12.18.07 By D. Eric Williams
Here we are at the fourth week of Advent already and I have yet to hear about any big to-do concerning a Christmas display which recognizes Christ as "the reason for the season." This isn't to say that there is not a lawsuit brewing somewhere; indeed it just wouldn't seem like Christmas without one.
There are plenty of folks who would like to ignore the connection between Jesus Christ and the December 25th celebration. Some will argue that it isn't the time when Jesus was born anyway - and most likely they're right. All available evidence points to a late September birthday for Jesus. On the other hand, the evidence also suggests that the Magi arrived in Bethlehem about 15 months later - near the end of December - to present their gifts and pay homage to the Messiah. In any case, as early as AD 354, Christ's birth was celebrated on December 25th. Whether this date was chosen by Julius, bishop of Rome (337-352) after careful research into the matter or merely as an alternative to the ancient pagan celebrations in honor of the sun is really unimportant; December 25th is the day on which the Christian world celebrates the birth of the Messiah.
Yet, is Christmas a Christian holiday any longer? Frankly, for most people, the answer is no. The majority of Americans enjoy the holiday as a strictly secular celebration. True, many people attend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services, but they do so not as an act of worship but out of a love for tradition or some other such thing. It reminds me of something G. K. Chesterton once wrote about the subject:
I can understand the man who takes off his hat to a lady because it is the customary symbol; I can also understand the man refuses to take off his hat to lady, like the old Quakers, because he thinks that a symbol is superstition. But what point would there be in so performing an arbitrary form of respect that it was not a form of respect?
We respect the gentleman who takes off his hat to the lady; we respect the fanatic who will not take off his hat to the lady. But what should we think of the man who kept his hands in his pockets and asked the lady to take his hat off for him because he felt tired?
Thus, it makes sense to celebrate Christmas in honor of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, there is certain logic in refusing to celebrate Christmas so as not to honor the Lord Jesus Christ. But it doesn't make sense to celebrate Christmas while not honoring the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it would be more logical for those who merely want the form without the substance to invent their own holiday (like Kwanzaa, a festival invented in 1966 out of thin air in opposition to the "white man's Christmas" and to provide blacks a way to enjoy the season apart from the traditional Christmas celebration). In fact it would be most sensible for non-Christian celebrants to revive the pagan revelry surrounding the winter solstice. That way they could enjoy the festive time of year without demanding that Christ remove their collective hat (or would that be hats...?).
Yet, isn't it the duty of Christians to see to it that the Christmas season is not emptied of all significance in regards to Christ? Yes and no. I think we spend too much time and energy fighting to keep crèches and Commandments on public property. Don't get me wrong; I wholly embrace the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of creation. There is no area of life that is not subject to His rule. Each and every Christian must do all that he can to bring his sphere of influence under the lordship of Christ. We must not leave our commitment to Jesus at the door of the doctor's office, at the door of our employment or at the door of the voting booth. We must always stand for truth.
Nonetheless, complaining about an attack on the downtown Nativity scene is like whining about smoke from your neighbor's chimney while your own house burns down around you. We expend time and energy trying to keep the manger at city hall as if that will make up for keeping our children in the public school. I'm not saying that we should abandon the fight on any front; I am saying that we all too often ignore the more important theatre of war in order to respond to a feint on our flank.
There are times when it is best to give way before the enemy in order to complete an encircling maneuver which results in ground gained overall. If the American people don't want Christ in Christmas, then it is the Church that is to blame. We aren't doing our job. We aren't willing to submit to Jesus Christ, so why should we expect the world to do so? Until we are willing - until we have our own house in order - perhaps it is best to simply let the world tip its hat anyway it sees fit.