LESSONS FROM CHRISTMAS

The “Battle of Christmas” has been more and more evident over the years and many believers are getting more and more affected. Some are deeply involved in the struggle to reclaim Christmas, to the point of becoming more a spectacle than a witness. I read of one individual who was telling servers at a coffee shop that his name was “Merry Christmas” so that they would have to say that when his order was ready. He was doing that because he had heard that staff at that coffee house were ordered not to use that greeting.

Other believers are not quite as (brave or obnoxious–chose which ever works for you) but are still upset with all the changes that have crept into the season. From politically correct greetings to removal of manger scenes to renaming school concerts to changing the music, the changes come fast and furious and there doesn’t seem to be much that we can do about it.

But there are several important lessons we can learn from what is happening and not happening during this time of the year. One of the first is that Christians are not in control of our culture. That lesson presents many problems for people who think that not only should we be in control of the culture but also that at some point in the past, we were in control of the culture.

To start with, Western culture did and does have a strong influence from the Christian faith–but the Christian faith was never in control of the culture. Any careful look at history discovers that while Christianity did play a part in the development of western culture, there were also other influences at work, influences that often were more powerful than the faith and often used the faith to achieve ends that were definitely not in keeping with Scriptural teaching. Political structures will use anything to further their ends and for a time, Christianity was one tool that politicians could use.

But as often as the faith gained a victory in the culture, such as the ending of slavery, it suffered a defeat, such as when the leaders of the faith began to adopt the same questionable approaches to power and politics that the culture used. As a pastor, I have dealt with power struggles, stacked meetings, questionable use of “facts”, serious lobbying and deal making–none of which are supported by the Bible but which are pretty much the way of things in cultural politics.

The faith didn’t even have that much control over the development of Christmas–that came about because of the cultural concerns focused on money. A faithful celebration of Christmas would focus on worship, special services and special music. True, some Christian legends encourage the giving of gifts but the legends often focus on very needy people receiving miraculous gifts in the nick of time, not the wide spread extravagant giving we see today. There really isn’t much money to be made in a spiritual celebration of Christmas.

But the trappings of Christmas: presents, decorations, parties, elaborate meals, travel–all of these make money and for a while, advertising found that plastering a veneer of Christ over it made it look better. What we as believers thought was an old-fashioned Christian Christmas was actually a new fangled advertising event designed to let us think we were celebrating God’s as we spend money we didn’t have for things we probably didn’t need. Our culture redirected our faith to its own ends.

But as the west became more and more pluralistic, the money shifted–and advertising followed the money. With fewer and fewer actually following the faith, advertising needed to follow the culture–and so Christmas became holidays; season’s greetings became a safer message and so on.

We in the faith actually haven’t lost anything in the last few years–we lost it even before the current shift when we allowed the culture to describe how we should celebrate the season that we stole from them in the first place. We never really owned Christmas–we appropriated it for our own needs and then allowed our culture to define what those needs were.

So, the first lesson we need to learn from Christmas is that we don’t control our culture and probably shouldn’t. We can influence our culture but shouldn’t be surprised when the culture turns around and either hijacks our stuff or changes direction. But since dominating culture is not mentioned in the New Testament as one of our goals, learning that lesson is a good thing–it allows us to step back and refocus on what we are really called to do, which is to be witnesses to the love of God in Christ.

May the peace of God be with you.

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