For years now we have heard from various sectors of our society that there is a war on Christmas. The media loves to sensationalize stories on both sides of this war – whether or not a crèche can be placed in such and such a place or whether a decorated fir tree in a public space should be called a “Christmas tree” or a “holiday tree.”
Yes, there is a war on Christmas, but it has very little to do with semantics or religious freedoms. This war is one-sided and in perfect harmony with the zeitgeist. It starts even before Thanksgiving, but celebrates its principal victory on Black Friday. Crusaders who “want to put Christ back in Christmas” are some of the most misguided combatants.
How is it that well-meaning Christians are being sidetracked? It has to do with the fact that we who claim to be Christians are, for the most part, living a far different life than our Master did. He promised neither an easy way, nor comfort, nor even happiness. He promised persecution and suffering, and his first followers endured such persecution and sacrificed everything – including wealth and power – to profess their faith.
Pastor J. Heinrich Arnold writes: “Our hope is in the crucified one, born of Mary in a manger. We are not promised good and pleasant days…Are we willing to go from the manger to the cross? Then he will come and dwell in our hearts. That is the greatest joy!”
Encapsulated here is a gospel that has nothing to do with the commercialization of Christmas. Here suffering and joy are brought together, showing the whole life of our Savior. Christmas is the story of the baby in the manger who, when he grew to a man, was hated and told his followers they would be despised as well.
This is not to say that Christmas should exclude the decorations, food, gifts, and other trappings. But these should complement, not detract from the message. Central to the celebration of Christmas is the fact that God became man. He was willing to become one of us, suffer with us, and ultimately suffer for us when he sacrificed his life at Golgotha.
How can we celebrate Christmas in a way that is pleasing to God? How can we incorporate his whole life, with his second coming in mind, into our festivities? It is really a matter of the heart: of changing our lives, embracing suffering if it comes our way, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is a matter of singing “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night” with our whole being, believing that Jesus is the Savior, not only of our own souls, but of the whole world, longing to reconcile all of creation to himself.
So let the world say no to crèches in shopping malls. Let them sing “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” We who are believers will profess the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior in word and even more in deed. Deeds will translate into defending the Gospel with our lives. Let us engage in the war on our own selfishness and possessiveness. Then Christmas and all it truly stands for will be a victorious banner, and we will receive the best Christmas gift of all – joy.