Regardless of religious affiliation, everyone must deal with Christmas. In offices, classrooms, malls and homes, people are drinking peppermint mochas, hanging lights and playing really old music. Slightly less popular than McDonalds’s golden arches, Santa is among the world’s most recognized icons. The season begins in late October and lasts a shameless two months. On December 25th, some families carve a turkey while others go out for Chinese. Some give elaborate gifts; some donate their time and money to charitable causes. We get vacations from school and work, send cards and attend (on average) five holiday parties. Churches hold candlelight services and stroll through neighborhoods singing on doorsteps. Some people are intensely happy and others are significantly depressed. With such an odd gathering of so many traditions and emotions, it begs the question: what is this season really all about?
Every year, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” airs on ABC and to date is the most popular Christmas special of all time (airing in 1965 on CBS through the year 2000). At the climax of the story, Linus answers Charlie Brown’s stunning question after going rounds with Lucy and the gang about aluminum trees and Christmas plays: “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” Linus quotes a passage from Luke 2, outlining Jesus’ birth and its purpose. Today, many if not most (no matter what they believe) will tell you that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. This is the one time during the year when secular media bows to a humble, beloved story about a boy and his dog, allowing this truth to be proclaimed during prime time. We Christians love this. We pat ourselves on the back, sigh contentedly and say, “See…even the world can’t deny that Jesus is the reason for the season.” We turn off the TV and return to our expensive presents, Santa pictures and candy making. Linus believes He’s the reason…do we?
Articulating the meaning of Christmas for evangelicals is like dribbling for ball players…if you don’t know how, you don’t even get to come to tryouts. Yet somehow, each December, we find ourselves preaching to friends, family and others a familiar message: “This is nice, but it’s not what Christmas is really all about.” We might believe this intellectually, but look at our houses and our schedules. They look no different than anyone else’s this time of year, save one Christmas cantata and one lonely manger scene on the coffee table. If He is the understood meaning, why do we have to repeat it over and over again?
America has taken history’s greatest event and turned it into a multibillion dollar industry that celebrates us, not Jesus, in the most non-offensive way possible. Many public schools have taken strong stands against traditional Christmas decorations, programs and even phrases; “Happy Holidays” now replaces “Merry Christmas.” Snowmen are allowed in school but Jesus is not. “O Holy Night” playing over speakers in shopping malls can now be considered an invasion of rights and is replaced with “Jingle Bells”. Christians thrive on these atrocities. Moms everywhere, peeling out of the parking lot in a nice big SUV with a fish stuck on the back, are decrying, “I just can’t believe they put ‘X-Mas’ on their marquee!” But as we evaluate our own ways of celebrating Christmas, how central is Christ in our shopping, decorating and worshiping? Everything we do is okay, as long as the pagans don’t leave Him out and Christians throw Him in, right?
Enjoying the Christmas season as it has been instituted by America is a fine thing. Celebrating Jesus’ birth and worshiping Him should be cleanly separated from the glitzy parade that is the Christmas season. If Christians want to see this commercialized holiday represent what we claim it does, our lives must profess it all year. A lost world might believe the true meaning when Christians have more joy in Jesus than in family get- togethers, gift cards and that Nintendo Wii we are crossing our fingers for. As the angel prophesied in Matthew 1:21, “She will bear a son and you will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” God entered human history as a baby to live perfectly and die a criminal’s death, to rise again, conquering sin and the grave so we could have life in eternity glorifying Him. I haven’t even played a Wii, but that has to be better. That is worth celebrating…I think Charlie Brown might agree.
May the birth of Christ be the source of your joy, this season and always.