Can you hear it? Faintly, off in the distance, is the sound of sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling, too. It’s the sound of children’s laughter as they throw snowballs at each other. It’s the distinct melody of “Christmas Shoes” echoing on repeat through the halls of every department store everywhere.
Christmas is just around the corner.
I love Christmas. Love. It. I pride myself on being the Holiday Cheermeister among my friends and family. I love the decorations, the lights, and yes, even the Christmas songs (minus “Christmas Shoes”). More important than my love for the Christmas season, though, is my love for the “reason for the season:” the incarnate birth of Jesus.
Along with the various sounds of the holidays, there is a tension in the air. And it’s not just the umpteenth repeat of “Christmas Shoes.” For evangelicals like me the struggle arises this time of year to distinguish between the secular Christmas season and the church’s recognition of the birth of Christ. We hear about the “war on Christmas” and how secular culture is gradually transforming our Christian holiday into a purely non-religious marketing ploy. It is easy for Christians to turn the holidays into a bitter Hatfield vs. McCoy feud with society, and far too often that is exactly what happens. We engage in this “war against Christmas,” and in so doing we lose our Christian saltiness. We bundle up our light.
This Christmas, it would delight me to see the people of God maintain their Christian witness. I would like to offer three ways for the believer to “stay Christian” during “X-mas”:
1. Don’t Be Surprised By the World Being Secular
At its foundation, Christmas is a Christian holiday. It is the time of year when Christ followers recognize what C. S. Lewis describes as the “grandest miracle of all.” For Christians, having this understanding of the nature of Christmas is the undercurrent of why we partake in all of the festivities. All of the gift giving, parties, meals, family visits, etc. are built upon the foundation that Christ has come to earth, purchased our salvation, and delights in our delight of one another. It is fundamentally a theological understanding of the season.
By its very nature, the secular Christmas season does not recognize Christ. Secular culture is in rebellion against Christ’s lordship, and this extends to the holidays that are celebrated. Since Christ has dominion over all, and secular culture is in the business of rebelling against Christ, of course they will try to remove Christ from Christmas. If Christmas is about recognizing Christ’s incarnation, and secular culture by its very nature does not recognize Christ, then the Christian Christmas is not for the non-believer.
2. Pick Your Battles Wisely
With the understanding that the Christian Christmas and secular culture are diametrically opposed, there are instances where it is both wise and good to push back against culture.
This time of year (along with Easter) always brings out the ugly side of the Internet. No matter how ridiculous the claim or how questionable the source, there will be a wave of Facebook posts and tweeted links about the “true nature of Christmas.” You know, how Christianity is just a Christianization of pagan holidays, and how the incarnation just mimics the Egyptian myth of Ra.
Nine-tenths of the time I simply ignore these posts. However, there have been occasions when the person who posted an article of these sorts was a close enough friend, who knew me in a personal enough way, that I was able to privately message them and inform them, if they didn’t already know, the misinformation present in the posted article. These sort of encounters, though, are few and far between. There will be silly and stupid things posted on Facebook that get under your skin, but you must resist the urge to spend all day, every day, lashing out at people’s misinformation. Online arguments very rarely produce in conversation, much less conversion.
To give one more example, there is a certain segment of the evangelical population whose feathers get particularly ruffled over the use of “happy holidays” over “Merry Christmas.” Is this the hill that deserves your blood? Are these happy holiday-ers out to ruin your Christmas, or are they trying to offer a cheerful word to you (albeit a secular one)? Offer them a cheery word back; not a venomous “Merry Christmas” from a face that just sucked a lemon.
3. Share the Gospel
The best way for a Christian to keep a faithful witness this Christmas season is to actually be a witness. We are celebrating the birth of Christ who saved us from sin. When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the gospel. Consider Philippians 2:
…though [Jesus] was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is truth! This is the gospel! Do not waste your time getting wrapped up in cultural Christianity’s battle when the salvific gospel needs to be preached! The worst thing that a Christian can do this holiday season is bemoan the lack of festivities on Starbucks cups when the baristas making your coffee are dead in their trespasses. How can we battle over putting Christ in X-mas when Christ in not in the life of your neighbor? God the Son became incarnate, and it is our mission to take that incarnation into a world that longs for reconciliation.
Unbelievers will not and cannot truly participate in Christmas because they have yet to hear and accept the good news of the Redeemer. This Christmas season, do not engage in a war that supports a nominal, damning shell of the gospel. Instead, make the gospel your focus. The gradual loss of cultural Christianity provides an ideal climate to identify and evangelize unbelievers. Pick your battles wisely, and ultimately, whether or not Christ is in the world’s “X-mas” does not prevent you from being a devoted follower of Jesus this Christmas season.