Saturday, December 05, 2009

"Christmas Lights Are Not the Gospel"

I recently received an email asking me to comment about keeping Christ in Christmas. Perhaps you can identify with him:

"Could you write
about keeping the focus of Christmas on Christ when you have
young children? This is something my family and I have struggled
with in light of not only the commercialization of the holidays, but
also the visual images (colored lights, trees, etc.) and the
predominance of secular movies and specials on TV.
I know, we could just turn off the TV, but we try to be as selective
as possible without being on a strict blackout. Would appreciate
your thoughts and practical suggestions."

First off, kudos to parents who have some concern about what their children take in, and want to help them interpret things well. This is part of our responsibility as parents, to train them to be discerning.

I think the real issue is to stay focused on Jesus year round. To be clear, I mean the biblical Jesus, not a watered-down pale and powerful imitation jesus that isn't the I AM, doesn't deal with sin, and can't save souls.

Let's separate this into a family issue (how to help our children understand), and the adults fighting the secularization and commercialization of Christmas (should I boycott Wal-mart if they don't say "Merry Christmas?").

On the family front, it's all about the dialogue you have in your home. Over years. With children individually and as a family. It's important to help your children understand the real story of Incarnation -- especially the why. Help them connect Christ's incarnation with his crucifixion and his resurrection. The secular/commercialization keeps Christmas separate from Easter, and therefore emasculates the power from the story.

It's also critical for parents to stress the giving side of Christmas traditions. This counters the selfishness inside us all that wants the focus to be on the getting.

Is it ok to watch Rudolph and laugh? Is it ok that the kids learn secular music like Frosty the Snowman? I say yes. They won't be able to connect with the culture God's called them to reach unless they understand these cultural touchpoints.

The key is to help your family understand the Gospel (which we need every day!) and also to understand that there are all kinds of traditions and practices that have sprung up around Christmas that are NOT the Gospel. Many of our cherished Christmas decorations (e.g., trees and wreaths) go back to Victorian England. Rudolph and Frosty are creations of the 20th century. Santa Claus has connections to Saint Nicholas (there are multiple possible stories), but the red-suited Santa at the North Pole with elves and sleigh is 20th century. December 25th is a date co-opted from another religion.

As your children get older you can do more to help them understand that these secular Christmas elements are a hollow shell compared to the beauty of the real Gospel, the real story of God Incarnate who came to die for you, and who conquered death. Yes, they're shiny and entertaining and attractive. But they're like cotton candy compared to the steak and potatoes of the Gospel, unsatisfying and teeth-rotting. And this understanding leads us to praise God for opening our eyes and hearts to His truth, and to pray that He would draw many others to Himself and save them, too.

Now, on to the adult "battle" against the secularization and commercialization of Christmas.

Satan has always been working against a correct understanding of the Gospel, including Christmas. He hates God and hates people made in the image of God. He is the real enemy here, and we're given instructions in how to fight against his crummy schemes (see Ephesians 6 and 1 Peter 5:9) -- standing firm on truth, prayer, faith.

I don't see anywhere in the Bible that we should expect not-yet-believers to preach the Gospel, tell Biblical stories correctly, or speak about Jesus if they don't want to. They're blind! They lack understanding! They're spiritually dead! So I'm not bothered if someone says, "Happy Holidays." It may create an opportunity to gently instruct someone. I don't need to freak out if a mall has Santa's sleigh and stuffed reindeer rather than a Nativity scene. It's an reminder to intercede for people. I am not interested in signing petitions or boycotting stores over these issues. Let's look for opportunities to love people, especially the hard-to-love.

Joke: Did you hear they're canceling nativity scenes in Washington, D.C.? Can't find three wise men.

In the US we're privileged people and should work to preserve our constitutional freedom of religion. Christians should not be people who put others down. Our nation has never been perfect on religious freedom, nor do I expect it to be. Not everything was ideal in the 1950s, or in any decade. I believe in Christians logically, calming invoking Constitutional rights and sharing from our history. But whining and wheedling and childish behavior should not be in our repertoire. I am not sure if our constitutional freedoms will always continue, but I am sure in our freedom in Christ -- including our freedom as we suffer.

Candidly, I fear the situation where we're relying upon civic and government institutions to get the Christian story right. That's the job of the Church, which is comprised of Christ-alive & transformed believing individuals.

Along these lines, please read Allen Murray's short article, "Christmas Lights Are Not the Gospel."

No comments: