It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Our Christmas tree is up. The smells of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are gently drifting through the house. Yes I know, I’m not a very particularly strict Puritan this time of year!
I’m also preparing my Christmas sermons and at Church we’re gearing up for our Christmas Eve service.
At least since 1965, we have been preaching that commercialism is the real enemy of Christmas. Remember what Lucy says to her friend Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas,
“Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”
Sermons warned us about not drowning out the true meaning with all the food and shopping and decorations. In the last few years though, we’ve changed our sights and declared that the real enemy of Christmas is now secularism. As shopping centres ban songs about Jesus, as manger scenes disappear or are pushed to the side, and as schools are discouraged from singing beyond Rudolph and bells that jingle, our Christmas messages now come with admonitions about those ripping Christ from Christmas.
First of all, our message isn’t “save Christmas”, our message is, “Jesus is Lord, and he came to save”. There is certainly less Jesus in today’s culture, and dislike for the Christian view of Christmas has become mainstream. Also, the two are not completely disconnected, with the former signalling disproval of the latter. However it is just possible that Christianity can prosper without the public holiday
Second, and maybe this is stating the obvious, but should we be getting all our Christmas lights in such a knot over this? Is it the role of society to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Does it make sense that an unbelieving population should focus attention on God incarnate? Why would they? Perhaps we should revisit the Nativity passages to remind ourselves of how Jesus was received,
“9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)
I wish more Australians would consider Christ, not only at Christmas but every day of the year. The angelic announcement to the Shepherds remains the greatest news ever to be broadcasted. The proclamation was so astonishing that it was recorded in Holy Scripture, and for over 2000 years people have been hearing the news and millions more will sing about it this year.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
You kidding me? God has come to earth and become human, entering as a baby? He is Lord and he has come to save? We Aussies are so absorbed in finding little happinesses that we stubbornly refuse to accept the joy God promises in Jesus Christ. It’s nuts, and the nuttiness is only equaled by Churches obscuring this glorious news,
Surely the cult of tradition can be just as great an enemy of Christmas, as is secularism and commercialism. Clouding the message of the incarnation through candles and processions and choirs can just as easily keep people from grasping the reality of Christ come. Don’t get me wrong, I love a well performed Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, but often that’s all it is, a performance. For many Australians still interested in Church during the season, attendance is often driven by the appeal of tradition or keeping grandparents happy.
Sometimes, because Churches want to “build” relationships with our local community (which is a good thing), we avoid too much Jesus and too much Bible getting in the way. We’ll say the necessary words, but let’s pad it lots of other elements that we know everyone enjoys: if we have to have the egg, make sure we add plenty of nog!
Sometimes, because we’ve assumed the old story needs retelling in new and innovative ways, we sacrifice clarity for the contemporary. Yes, I realise that these things don’t have to be dichotomous, but tell me, how many carol services have you attended where the Bible is never read, the prayers are vague and politically correct, and the headline act is a man carrying about with a pillow stuffed under a $75 hired suit?
It’s not the job of channel 9s Carols by Candlelight to preach Jesus. It’s not role of the local primary school to explain Luke ch.2. If they do, fantastic; a truly pluralist society would embrace such, but it’s not their mandate.
It is the role of Churches, and our privilege, to present and explain the reality of the incarnation, and of the death and resurrection of Immanuel. If the coming of Christ is truly good news that brings great joy, shouldn’t we make it our aim to present Him as clearly and passionately as possible? We can still put on the BBQ, light candles, drink mulled wine, and let the kids do a pageant, but please don’t hide the Gospel. If we are not making the good news of Jesus Christ clear, who will?