The Lord allowed me to pastor two different churches for short periods of time in my ministry life. In each church, the Christmas season brought both challenge and opportunity to my preaching schedule. In my last pastoral assignment, I enjoyed preparing the church family to think biblically about how to celebrate Christmas. I am returning to this thought once again, especially because I believe the meaning of Christmas is under aggressive assault.
As I venture into this discussion about Christmas with you, I am not trying to elevate one day over another (Colossians 2:16), nor am I trying to present Christmas as a biblically-mandated holy day. On the other hand, I want to encourage thoughtful engagement of a recognized holiday in our routine of life. There is something historical and theological about Christmas that is worth celebrating. It is my hope that this perspective will entice your reading of what follows.
Christmas is no longer a religious holiday. This is apparently being noticed by news commentators who are sensitive to the cultural shifts taking place in our day. For example, last year in December Todd Starnes posted a series of articles on his Fox News Website related to the attack on Christmas. The titles speak volumes about nature of the assault. They include: “Texas lawmaker wants to save ‘Merry Christmas’”; “‘Joy to the World’ is not Bullying, Attorney says”; “Texas Town Removes Christmas Banners”; “Parents Say Christmas Carols are a Form of Bullying”; “School Replaces Holiday Concert with Anti-Bullying Program”; “NBC Editor Denounces ‘Religious’ Part of Christmas”; and, “Navy Cancels Nativity over Atheist Complaint.”
Christmas is now a consumer event. The final quarter of the year has become a major financial consumer event that has completely eclipsed the meaning of Christmas. The shopping frenzy from Thanksgiving to Christmas seems to bring the worst out in all of us.
In addition to the stress of cultural attacks on Christmas, the holiday can be marked by many personal and relational tensions. For some of us, Christmas will be very lonely. Perhaps a loved one passed away this year and you are not looking forward to any of the events associated with Christmas. Or perhaps travel and schedules will not permit you to be with family or family to be with you.
For some of us our Christmas gatherings and celebrations will be full and very festive as family gather for quality time together. These well planned and seamlessly executed holiday times are worthy of academy awards.
For some of us Christmas celebrations will be a nightmare. If both your parents are alive and able to host family, you stressfully have to figure out where you eat meals and when you open your presents.
If you are part of a blended family, you have learned how to travel with a spread sheet and a timer to know where to go and how long to spend there.
And, let’s not forget those family situations stained with addictions of some kind, or characterized by life style choices that run counter to the Word of God. How do you balance genuine gospel compassion for the souls of loved ones with a commitment to biblical truth and righteousness? In these situations is it best to say NO and not participate in a family gathering? Or, is it wiser to limit your participation in such family time gatherings? Or, is it better to attend with a prayerful commitment to Holy Spirit enabled grace and truth.
The situations described above, although very real for many of us, touch our emotions both positively and negatively at every level. Unfortunately in all of this we lose the joy of Christmas and feel the full weight of guilt and stress.
So what can we do? How can we think biblically about Christmas and Christmas celebrations? Does the Scripture offer us any direction on how to make the most of the Christmas season? Not really, but it does offer us a principle that I would like to apply to this topic. Ephesians 5:15-16 and Colossians 4:5 exhort us to redeem the time or make the most of every opportunity. On the basis of this principle, how can we redeem the Christmas holiday time and make the most of it?