Unlike many people I know in the more conservative part of the Christian faith that I affiliate with, I am not at all interested in an annual ritual. This time of the year, it is not unusual for people to point out some cultural trend and use it as a symbol of the continual secular conspiracy to take Christ out of Christmas. The obvious antidote it to work hard to put Christ back in Christmas. There will be sermons, Christmas newsletters, social media rants and on and one telling us that we need to do this.
Early in my ministry, I was one of the people trying to put Christ back in Christmas. As time passed and I learned more about Christmas traditions, Christian history and theology and the reality of North American demographics, I became less and less vocal about the need to put Christ back into Christmas. I began to realize that there are some people for whom the whole Christmas scene is depressing. There are others who don’t celebrate Christmas for a variety of reasons. And increasingly, there are many whose cultural background doesn’t have a Christian component. As I learned things like this and realized some of the implications of these realities, I spoke less and less about putting Christ back into Christmas.
And eventually, I began to think that maybe we as believers just might be better off if we actively worked at taking Christ out of Christmas. What we call Christmas is really nothing more than a huge cultural event sponsored primarily by commercial enterprises. The glossy veneer of Christianity that gets plastered over the whole mess is actually demeaning to our faith. Do we actually want the name of Christ associated with the riots that happen in shopping malls on Black Friday, which somehow marks the official beginning of Christmas shipping?
It is probably time for us to realize that there are two events going one here: the cultural festival that sort of grew out of a Christian celebration and the Christian remembrance of the birth of Jesus. The events were once related but in truth, the only real connection these days is the fact that both happen at the same time. They may have once been closely related but today, the connection is slim and tenuous and is an actual problem for those trying to really focus on the love and grace of God shown in the Incarnation.
Since we can’t put Christ back in Christmas–our culture has gone far beyond that–we might well be better off to take Christ completely out of Christmas. Let culture have the holiday. As Christians, we can live with “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays”. The faith can survive when schools have “Winter Concerts”. Holiday shopping can happen without Joy to the World in the background.
I suggest that we as believers accept the inevitable–this season has been effectively severed from its tenuous Christian roots. Great–that means we can actually focus on the remembrance of the birth in our terms in our worship and private devotions. We don’t need to force our culture to celebrate the birth of Christ. We do need to give witness to the love and grace of God shown in the risen and living Christ, something that gets harder and harder to do when we are fighting our culture for a season that we are never going to get back.
I would suggest that we treat the cultural celebrations as we treat all the rest of our culture. We can take part as responsible believers who are attempting to live and show the reality of our faith in all situations. As believers, we can and should use our faith as a guide to our celebrations, seeking the Spirit’s leading on things like how much to spend on what for who. We probably avoid rioting at the shopping mall when the must-have toy is no longer in stock–and maybe in the spirit of turn the other cheek, we give the one we manage to snag to someone else.
We can’t put Christ back in Christmas, at least not like we thought we could. But we can put Christianity in the seasonal celebration. It takes some thought and some work and some changes, all of which the Holy Spirit will help us with but we can have the celebration of Christ and the cultural festival without one having to win over the other.
May the peace of God be with you.