I have a confession to make. Right around this time every year, for almost a decade, it has become tough for me not to get a little cynical about Christmas. It’s not that I stop getting excited about Jesus, or lose my evangelistic zeal, or grow tired of worshiping with my church family. I still like the music (mostly), I still have the movie White Christmas memorized line by line, and I truly do thoroughly enjoy spending time with family and buying gifts for loved ones.
So, what’s the problem then, you may ask.
It’s the clichés. And it’s the fallacies.
Call it an occupational hazard I guess, but as a worship leader, every year around mid-October I begin the process of “live-breathe-eat Christmas”. When you focus on something that hard, over and over, every year, you begin to form strong opinions. And things that may seem little or inconsequential to others, can become aggravating.
So partially just to get them off my chest, but also simultaneously believing that these really are issues we need to think through, I offer 3 Christmas fallacies to avoid this year:
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Sure, for many of us, Christmas time is great! For many it means a break from school (which I’m confident comes as much as a relief to many teachers as it does their students). For many it’s a time to enjoy family and a special season of worship. For many, Christmas presents a unique opportunity to practice generosity.
For many. Not for all.
For some, Christmas is a lonely reminder of an empty chair at the dinner table. For others, the holiday season brings to mind all the things a parent wishes they could provide, but cannot. There are people you know who have been terribly injured at this time of year, and every December the calendar savagely reopens the wound.
Celebrating is great. And being in a position of blessing is nothing to feel guilty about. I’m not trying to be a killjoy. But I do wish we would open our eyes and look outside of our own immediate contexts more often. It is the very redeemer we celebrate after all, who incarnates the One who is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those crushed in spirit (Psa. 34:18).
As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us remember why the Savior came; to seek and save the lost. To attend to the sick. To pronounce blessing on those who are poor in spirit. Not to be served, but to serve. And may we not just mindlessly sing songs about him, but pick up our own crosses and follow him.
We 3 Kings, et al.
How many kings came to visit Jesus that night? Trick question!, you may answer. It doesn’t actually say! And of course you're right… sort of. The actual answer is zero. Zero kings came to visit Jesus at his birth. The best translation of “magi from the east” (Matt. 2:1) is not “kings”, or even “wise men”. It’s simply “magicians”, or even better; “mages”. Rejoice too, all ye players of MMORPG’s and Magic: the Gathering!
Now of course my purpose in mentioning this is not to glorify the occult, or to condone actually practicing sorcery. In this specific case of Jesus’ birth, God in his great mercy and grace spoke to these mages through their astrology (what else do you call seeking supernatural signs by watching the stars?), but it was specifically to lead them to the Christ child.
And we’re so good at missing the point here. We forget that Jesus changes everything. The arrival of Jesus causes a monumental shift in YHWH worship. “Wise men from the east” bringing presents to baby Jesus is no mere gesture of good will. When these pagans from a distant land come and worship him, it is a sign of an irreparable break from Judaism and everything the Jewish people knew about faith and religion.
The mages came directly to the Messiah, and without receiving circumcision. Without keeping Torah. Without an intermediary priest. Without becoming Jews. All this would be unheard of at the time, and that precious scene becomes so much weightier when we remember the special promise God made to Abraham millennia earlier that his offspring would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:3); a promise that was finally being fulfilled.
Nativity sets are beautiful. Books and cartoons about the various Christmas barn-animals for our children are wonderful. But as we celebrate Christmas this year, let us be relentlessly Biblical. It's not a game of Trivia about how many wise men there were, or whether or not there was a donkey. But as we consider the baby in the manger, let us not forget that from the moment of his birth, he was destined to die; not just die, but to be killed – sacrificed in our place to atone for our sins.
Happy Xmas War is Over
How it is that John Lennon and Paul McCartney, two of the most prolific songwriters of a generation, ended up producing the two worst Christmas songs ever written, is just beyond me. I’m convinced it is somehow the fault of Yoko Ono.
But what about the so-called “war on Christmas”?
Now I want to apologize in advance to anyone who genuinely feels persecuted for their faith when the guy at Nordstrom tells you “Happy Holidays” as you walk out with your $300 designer jeans, or when Starbucks refuses to write the word “Christmas” on your $6 coffee cup. But can I get real with you for a second? I seriously doubt whether Jesus cares. At all.
I don’t have chapter and verse on this, but I just have a really hard time envisioning Jesus sitting on his throne, biting his nails every 25th of December, whimpering, they’re ruining my birthday while listening to Lesley Gore sing, It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
Is there an evil supernatural undercurrent at work in our world, relentlessly trying to eliminate the influence of Jesus and the Gospel from society? Maybe. Probably. Will that force be conquered by Christians boycotting a coffee chain, or angrily shouting, “It’s *not* happy holidays, it’s MERRY CHRISTMAS!” at some poor soul who was just trying to greet you? Probably not.
In fact, here’s a question for the Merry Christmas militia – what if you expended half the energy you use up combatting “happy holidays” or “seasons’ greetings”, instead on proclaiming the beauty and worthiness of Jesus in the Gospel to those who so desperately need him? Because if you’re saying (shouting?), “Merry Christmas” to someone with a frown on your face and growl in your throat… you may be missing the point.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us keep some perspective. Let us avoid distractions about holiday vocabulary, and if we are full of zeal, let us use it for the sake of the Gospel.
God Bless Us, Every One
Well that’s it. I truly believe these are not just three otherwise meaningless pet-peeves of mine, but that remembering those who suffer, being Bible- (and Gospel-) centered, and avoiding foolish and unprofitable controversies (Titus 3:9) are actually important things to keep in mind this Christmas. Let’s Celebrate! Enjoy! Sing! Eat! And remember Jesus.