Every year there is debate as to whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas. The arguments against it include the pagan origins of the holiday as well as the Christmas tree, the triviality of slapping Bible verses on mass Christmas Cards, the lie of Santa, the greed of gift-giving and the fact that Jesus wasn’t actually born at this time of year. Over the next few days I would like to examine some of these arguments. Basically, this is a defense as to why my family and I love and celebrate this wonderful holiday.
To begin with we need to figure out how Christians should think about and engage the culture we are a part of. Whenever Joe teaches on this he uses the “three ways to engage culture” used by a number of theologians today.
1. Receive that which is good
God is gracious to all. He has given talent to both the Christian and the non Christian alike. He has blessed communities with the ability to work together and make good decisions. In every culture there are things to be received and affirmed.
“When our community decides it will take environmental care, the education of our children, or the health of the sick seriously we can say "amen."
- Joe Thorn
We can enjoy good art, music, books, plays, movies, fashion, community festivals, poetry, and inventions because they are graces given by a benevolent God to both Christians and non Christians.
2. Reject that which is bad
Of course in any culture there is also a lot that is bad and needs to be rejected. Things like idolatry and false religion, pornography, abortion, spousal and child abuse, racism, etc. These are evils that are accepted by many, but we must choose to have no part in them. We cannot receive these things, but instead work against them. But simply standing there, hand on hip, finger wagging, is not enough.
“Part of our rejecting things in our culture means pointing to the way things ought to be, and even how the gospel points to such things. Think, the restoration of all things via the established kingdom of God at the return of Jesus Christ. Pointing out what is wrong is not enough. We must also point to God's plan for righteousness to reign.”
- Joe Thorn
3. Redeem that which is broken
And then there are a lot of things in this world that are good but broken; family, marriages, use of money, work-ethic, etc. Instead of running away or merely speaking against these things we must help fix them. We have the truth, we have the Holy Spirit, and we have a God-given responsibility to show the world that there is a better way, and that ultimately Christ is that better way.
“Redeeming what is broken/lost is the direct application of the gospel to the culture in which we live. It answers the questions, "What does the gospel say to our broken marriages and homes; our selfishness and materialism, our prejudice and racism? What does the gospel say to the emptiness of personal religion and the bland spirituality held by the masses?"
- Joe Thorn
So what does this have to do with Christmas?
When we approach Christmas we need to ask ourselves, what is good here, what is broken and what is evil?
Celebrating the birth of Jesus is good. The entire Old Testament, starting in Genesis 3, points to the coming of the Messiah. When Jesus finally arrived thousands of angels announced his birth through celebratory song, the shepherds worshiped and the wise men brought Christ gifts.
Christ came to redeem that which is broken, to heal the mangled hearts of humanity, undo the evils of sin, and to destroy the works of Satan.
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
1 John 3:8
But because we are broken people, our celebrations will also be broken. In this world false gods are served and materialism valued. People have a hunger for satisfaction and joy and use this time of year to find those things in gifts, celebrations, family, and good deeds.
It is our job to point to something better. To show and speak of Christ in whom is found not only salvation from sin but also satisfaction in all circumstances and joy unmeasurable.
The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity – hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory – because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.
Throughout history God’s people have set up reminders (Joshua stones, Josh. 4) and celebrated God’s goodness (Passover, Ex. 12) so as not to forget God’s wonderful deeds. We must never forget the birth of Christ! Without his birth there would be no fulfillment of righteousness, and no payment of sin.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth of our Saviour whose life and death give us eternal life. And now we also look forward to the Second Advent, his second coming at which time all things will be made perfect.
So let’s start with this principle as we consider Christmas: rejecting what is wrong, receive what is good, and help redeem what is broken. Check in tomorrow as we look at a specific Christmas controversy: the Christmas tree.