Christmas is optional, Jesus is not

Should Christians defend Christmas?

In recent days Federal Government Ministers, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison, have come out to bat for Christmas, arguing that political correctness has gone too far in curtailing the religious significance of this national holiday.

When a listener called into 2GB and shared how his children’s school had blacklisted Christmas Carols, Mr Dutton responded,

“You make my blood boil with these stories… “It is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it.”

“Many of the people, regardless of their religious belief, would be there happy to sing along with Christmas carols, happy to enjoy the fact that we celebrate Christmas as a Christian society and it’s beyond my comprehension.”

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They have a valid point, there is a movement of Grinches emerging across the country, seeking to control and even remove Christian vestiges from the season’s festivities. References to the Magi, Shepherds, and Jesus Christ are harder to find, which is perhaps why we are pleasantly surprised when we hear an entertainer at Myer Music Bowl Carols or see a shopping mall nativity scene redirect us to that wondrous night in Bethlehem.

Christmas remains a national public holiday, and is almost certainly the most enjoyed day of the year for the majority of Australia’s 24 million people. For many there is no religious sentiment attached to Christmas, and yet people happily gorge themselves with many of Christmas’ associations. It is also true that Christ-less Christmases have become the norm for many families. One friend conducted a straw poll on Facebook last week; some friends admitted that their children didn’t associate Jesus with Christmas, and one child had never heard of Jesus Christ.

While previous generations may have connected Christmas with Christ, this is disappearing, partly due to Australia reconfiguring into a multi-faith society, partly because of secularism, and even our exuberant consumerism blinds us to what lays behind the tinsel, turkey, and toys.

The diminishment of Jesus in Australian Christmas celebrations grieves me, not because December 25th matters, but because it indicates how our culture is shifting further away from the greatest and most beautiful news we can ever behold.

I’m not suggesting that the Australia of my childhood was somehow more Christian than today. It was okay to sing about Jesus in 1980 and Church attendance was more common, but it is quite possible for a culture to be deeply embedded with Christian themes and festivals, and yet be utterly impervious to their significance.

How much should Christians defend Christmas?

First of all, celebrating Christmas is not a requirement for Christians, let alone for anyone else.

Nowhere in the Bible are Christians told to celebrate a day called Christmas. Indeed, Christians are warned against legislating special days, as they can mislead and manoeuvre  people into a form of self-righteousness that opposes the Gospel of grace. Under the Old Covenant Israelites were given special days for observance. These days were tied to events with theological and historical significance to that nation, but once the new covenant was instituted by Jesus Christ, such festivals became unnecessary. There was freedom to observe or not.

This may sound anathema to some Christians, but it doesn’t matter whether we celebrate Christmas or not. Christmas is a religious and national holiday, one we can choose to celebrate or not, eat Turkey or not, sing carols or not, give presents or not. We have freedom to skip over December 25, although your kids might be a little miffed on Christmas morning. 

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that we dump Christmas from the national or ecclesiastical calendars.

I’m no Puritan when it comes to Christmas. I love Christmas. The Campbell house in December is bouncing with Carols and the aroma of pine, we’re eating up pre-Christmas Christmas food, and my kids are exclaiming, ‘Dad, not another Christmas movie’. But celebrating Christmas is a cultural advent, not a Biblical mandate.

Second, are we trying to introduce people to Christmas or to Christ? The answer is not necessarily either/or. For example, Christmas is an opportunity to remind our mates that the Christ has come. It is an easy route for inviting friends to Church and to swing conversations around to the Gospel. However, while we may bemoan secularism taking Christmas hostage to its truculent ideals, are we better off investing our efforts in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ? In advocating Christmas are we sending mixed messages about Christianity?

My question is, are we about promoting Christmas the event or Christ the person? I sense that some of us are leaning heavily toward the former.

Perhaps we should exert less concern about protecting the day called Christmas, and make more effort to live and speak the reality of the good news that entered the world that dark and unfriendly night in Bethlehem.

Leaving aside the word ‘Christmas’ and the day December 25th, in uncovering the birth of the Christ child we discover truth that is too good to ignore, too wonderful to brush off. In the bleak mid-minter God came down and took on flesh. God the Son lay aside his glory in heaven in order to suffer and die on a cross for people who have ditched God.

If we’re intent on waving a ‘save Christmas’ placard, we must avoid communicating that we’re trying to revive a celebration for the remnant of conservative and traditional Australia. I want my secular friends and my religious friends to fall in love not with Christmas, but with Jesus. In a year where refugees have once again dominated the news, where transgender issues have made news, and where hurting families make headlines, let’s make effort to show people Christ.

In the bleak mid-winter 

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter

Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him

Nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away

When He comes to reign:

In the bleak mid-winter

A stable-place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty,

Jesus Christ.

(Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1872)

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