Silly season is in full swing. As many scurry to finish work, study, house renovations and last-minute gift shopping, Christmas is met with a dichotomy of responses and emotions from exciting to daunting. Christmas is supposed to be the most beautiful time of the year. Trees and lights go up, food and drink consumed, and innumerable gifts shared between family and friends. Even Mariah Carey gets a pass this time of the year. However, Christmas can also be a time of pain. For many, Christmas is a reminder of who is no longer present and the lack of family and friends. The joy of others simply amplifies their hardship.
Additionally, Christmas always raises questions as to proper etiquette. What is the earliest date the tree can go up? (whenever my wife says it is going up). Is it acceptable to re-gift gifts? (The answer is a definite yes). For those within the Christian tradition, further complexity exists at Christmas. Questions surrounding the nature of consumerism and materialism are raised — moreover, the debate as to whether or not Christmas is indeed a secular or sacred holiday? Should Christians participate in something that may have pagan roots?
How should we, therefore, approach Christmas from a Christian worldview?
Let me propose three approaches with one underlying principle. The underlying principle is the principle of grace. The Bible is explicit that the posture of a Christian should be one of grace. We are to extend to one another and our secular culture what God has extended to us.
1 Peter 3:15 is a helpful verse to guide our conduct both towards God and others.
“but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”
Christians are to love Christ, above all. Where the Bible speaks clearly, Christians are to obey wholeheartedly. Furthermore, Christians are to exercise those convictions with gentleness and respect – with grace, especially with those of a different persuasion.
When engaging in culture, whether its technology or a holiday, it is vital to ask three questions. Do we receive it, reject or redeem it?
Many Christians around the world reject Christmas. They do not participate in the traditional activities of putting up a tree, giving gifts or setting aside a specific day of the year to remember Christ’s birth. Those who reject Christmas tend to do so with a desire towards obedience and devotion to God, not culture. They seek to avoid entanglement to the so-called pagan roots of Christmas and argue that since the Bible does not instruct us to celebrate Christ’s birth nor is the date of his birth definitive, Christmas should be rejected.
Even if you disagree with the premise, this approach should be commended, not ridiculed. In my opinion, Christians are too quick to dismiss this approach and label it legalistic. The principle of grace allows us to disagree while commending one’s motivation to honour Christ as holy.
Additionally, some people refuse to participate in Christmas due to the experience of pain. It just hurts too much. Rather than producing joy, it highlights sorrow. It is important not to label hurting people as grinches or to avoid them due to their negative outlook. Instead, we are to extend grace, draw near, invite in and share in their sorrow.
The accusation often made by the ‘rejecter’s‘ of Christmas is that Christians thoughtlessly ‘receive’ Christmas with no prayerful consideration. They compromise. While this can be true, it is not necessarily the case for everyone. A rejecter needs to extend grace to a receiver of Christmas. They should lean towards a charitable view rather than a sceptical one.
I agree it is problematic for a so-called Christian to give token thoughts to Christ one time a year, or worse, replace Christ with Santa, and other secular aspects of Christmas. Yet many Christians that receive Christmas, including the tree and lights and Santa, can also seek to worship Christ in their celebrations. Moreover, even though the Bible does not mandate the celebrating of Christ’s birth, it does not mean that it is forbidden.
‘I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year…While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation, which is the dividing point of all human history.’ R.C Sproul
This is the approach my family take. We have chosen to neither reject nor receive Christmas. Instead, we seek to redeem it. For us, there are some untenable aspects of secular Christmas. For example, we have chosen to reject Santa. We felt that in good conscience we could not lie to our children about Santa (Easter bunny, tooth fairy etc). We also believe that the spirit of Santa is the antithesis of Christ and the gospel, the very heart of Christmas. Santa promotes moralism and works. Christ promotes transformation and grace. Unlike Santa, God isn’t checking his sin list twice over to see if you’ve been naughty or nice. The Christian faith is that Christ came because we haven’t been good, and we receive his gift of life based on his work not ours. So we as a family cannot reconcile Santa to our Christmas celebration. We don’t ‘recieve‘ Santa, we don’t redeem Santa, we ‘reject’ Santa.
We do however seek to redeem Christmas. We seek to make Christmas as sacred as we can. We put up a tree (secular) and seek to use the tree to remind our children that one day this baby Christ would choose to die on a tree for our transgressions (sacred). We give gifts (secular) to reflect God’s nature (sacred) as he gave himself to the world in love (Jn. 3:16). We seek to redeem Christmas in the sense that we seek to engage in it in a way that ‘Honours Christ as holy‘ (1 Pet 3:15).
In many ways we seek to follow the model of the early Christians who celebrated Christmas within a non-Christian culture. The 25th of December was the final day of a weeklong celebration within the Roman Empire. During this celebration, they worshipped secular and pagan gods such as Mithras. Christians within the Roman Empire were devoted to Christ and in good conscience rejected participation in the festivities. They could not worship their gods. Rather than just reject this celebration outright, they chose to redeem the day. Rather than remaining in their homes, avoiding the secular culture, they decided to celebrate something essential to their faith. They began to observe what C. S. Lewis calls ‘the grandest miracle of all time’, the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas was birthed out of a pagan context, but it was not idolatrous, it was Christian. Christians decided to redeem a date, 25th of December and honour the birth of our saviour, not Mithras or any other pagan god. Christmas was sacred, not secular.
Now the Christian Christmas has undoubtedly been overtaken by secularism and consumerism, and many Christians have ignorantly received it. Compromise has occurred. But this does not mean we have to reject Christmas outright. My appeal is that we redeem it. We participate in Christmas in a way that is pleasing to God. In a way that is distinctly Christan and not pagan. The early Christians within Rome sought to lift up Christ amid their secular context. They used their celebration as an opportunity to contrast Christ with the false gods of the Roman Empire. Maybe we too can contrast Christ with Santa and redeem the sacred from within our secular context.
If you are a Christian, I encourage you to make the most of the opportunity you have during this season. Make much of Jesus. Don’t forget him. Don’t give him token thoughts. Make him central. If you put up a tree. Remember the tree from which he was crucified for you. If you put up lights. Rejoice that the light of the world came for you. If you give out gifts, recognise the greatest gift ever given was the gift of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. And whichever approach you take, do so with grace.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!