One might get the impression, from the way many Christians talk, that Christmas in 2014 is a holiday under siege. We shout, “Keep Christ in Christmas!” and get up in arms when other religions want to horn in on our holiday displays. Kirk Cameron even released a movie this year called Saving Christmas that was aimed at defending the Christian-ness of our cultural holiday celebrations. At the risk of being removed from your Christmas card list, I submit that it may be a bad idea to try to keep Christ in Christmas.
At the outset, let me define some terms to distinguish between Christmas the holiday celebration, on the one hand, and the historical events we celebrate during Christmas on the other.
There is no question that the celebration of Christmas is a distinctly Christian thing, albeit one that was grafted onto existing pagan celebrations and that has borrowed freely over the years from non-Christian elements of various cultures. But behind the celebration of Christmas is a historical event that occurred about 2,000 years ago, the incarnation. When Jesus was born, God became a human, such that Jesus was fully God and fully man.
So, when I say “Christmas,” I’m talking about the holiday celebration (whether it includes distinctly Christian elements or not), and when I say “incarnation,” I’m talking about the birth of Jesus.
Exclusive or Inclusive?
The main reason I think we should not try to keep Christ in Christmas? It puts the emphasis in the wrong place and makes the whole affair exclusive when it was meant to be inclusive. Christmas may be for Christians, but the incarnation was for everyone.
Most people recognize that Christmas originated as a Christian celebration. The whole idea of setting aside certain days as public holidays (holy days) is a vestige of Christendom, a time when religious and governmental authority were inextricably intertwined. The modern “Holiday” season retains a lot of religious elements, but they have become obscured over the years by many other secular and traditional elements. So today, we see many Christians hunkering down in an us-versus-them fight to retain things like public manger displays, and generally bristling against the widespread secularization and commercialization of Christmas.
By focusing on and fighting for the distinctiveness of Christmas as a religious holiday, we risk losing sight of the more important fact that the incarnation is for everyone – Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and yes, even Christians.
Good News for Everyone
The angel who announced the birth of Jesus said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11.) The incarnation was good news for all the people because all the people needed a savior.
The angels then broke out into a song of praise for the peace that the incarnation was to achieve between God and man: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14.) The coming of the Prince of Peace also was good news for all the people because everyone was in a state of rebellion against God.
Jesus is not the provincial deity of those who follow certain religious or cultural traditions. He is the savior of all those who will turn to him, whether for them December is about winter solstice parties, Festivus poles, giant inflatable reindeer, or little plastic baby Jesuses.
Put another way, if you are a Christian in America, you probably love you some Christmas and a good many of its religious and secular trappings. If you’re a non-Christian in America, you probably love you some Happy Holidays and maybe a different mix of the trappings (more Santa & Elf on a Shelf, less Tiny, Infant Jesus). To many billions of people living in China, India, Indonesia, Somalia, and dozens of other countries, though, our Christmas traditions mean essentially nothing.
As for me, I’m going to keep celebrating Christmas. Our lights were up the day after Thanksgiving, and my wife and I can’t wait to surprise our kids with gifts on Christmas morning. At the same time, I’m not going to spend a moment worrying about how or whether others want to celebrate this holiday season, much less try to foist a Christian holiday on those who don’t treasure Christ in the first place.
But I’m also going to pray that this season brings an opportunity for many others to experience the joy of the good news of the incarnation of Jesus. That joy is cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, and speaks across every boundary line known to mankind. If you’re human, the incarnation was for you.