It’s that time of year again. Time for the secular world to drag out their lights and candles and candy and Santa hats and pictures of snow even in places like Louisiana where snow is a story told to bad children to keep them scared. Time for the evangelical world to put out nativity scenes and dust off the Precious Moments figurines, and put up reprimanding placards stating “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and “Happy Birthday Jesus!”
Let the collective facepalming from the Reformed world begin.
A Reformed Presbyterian’s idea of a good time consists largely of drinking quantities of alcohol that would kill elephants and discussing the failures of sentimentalism and evangelicalism in loud voices between puffs of expensive cigars.
Christmas is no different.
But there is some truth to this. The same people who denounce the evils of the secularization of Christmas are many of the same people who will skip our covenant renewal and worship of the Incarnation of our Savior on Christmas morning because it falls on a Sunday. When did “family traditions” become more important than Christ himself?
And don’t even try to explain the twelve day feast of Christmas to an evangelical.
There is a danger far worse than Christmas becoming something “un-Christian” to the world. Of course they don’t see it for what it is. But as Bart Simpson would say, “Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.” No big deal there in my eyes. Should they understand? Yes. Is it a big deal that they don’t? No. Because they’re praising Him even if they don’t want or intend to.
The greater danger is that of Christians sentimentalizing it and deprecating the value of this monumental occasion. “Happy Birthday Jesus” signs are one of the many indicators of this. Be clear: it’s not really Jesus’ birthday (for what it’s worth, it is Sir Isaac Newton’s). We celebrate His birth, yes, but we are celebrating much more than a simple date as this would seem to show. We are celebrating the beginning of the end for Death. The first light after the dawn – “Those who lived in darkness have seen a great light.” The coming of a New Age and the restoration of hope and love and triumph over sin.
This is not an occasion to be approached with frivolity. This doesn’t mean we should not celebrate…quite the opposite. It is indeed a celebration. But it is a holy day, a feast to honor the coming of the King. We dance and drink and feast because this is the time that the Church commemorates the Incarnation of God into Man. We should not sentimentalize it into Precious Moments nativity scenes. We need to have a sense of holy reverence and awe about us.
When I imagine the scene set in Luke 2 and other accounts, I do not view a cutesy quaint village. I imagine the night fraught with tension, the inn being full, the rising panic of Joseph as Mary goes into labor, the discovery of the inn and the manger. I see the angels, terrible fiery messengers, the cowering shepherds, the thundering voice of the angel host, the lightning which always accompanies the glory cloud, the kings from east silently seeking in holy reverence for the long-awaited Messiah. I feel how the shepherds must have felt, looking for the stable of which they were told by an innumerable angelic war host, as their terror and disbelief turn to one of joy when they realized that the Savior promised long was at long last among them. How it must have felt to walk into that simple barn and see the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and for him they were a robe of finest purple to suit the King of Kings. The Spirit in that place must have been palpable to them…with such a holy fear filling them, it is no wonder that they feel on their knees and worshipped.
This holy awe is what needs to fill us as we celebrate on Sunday. No cheesy placards, funny as they may be, have their place tomorrow morning. We must feast yes, but we must remember that we are feasting to the glory of the Word made Flesh. This is no sentimental matter. This is a great King come to judge and save his people, and to banish Death, and Sin.
This is the opening gambit in the War on Hell.
The church calendar is set up to help us attain this sense of glory. We have the season of Advent, to ponder and reflect on the Incarnation of Christ and to anticipate his coming with trepidation. And then, we have the Feast of Christmas, which should last 12 full days and culminate with the Feast of Epiphany. Then we move through other seasons until we come to Lent (the fast of Jesus) and finally the trials of the Cross, and the Resurrection: the final coup in this War on Hell.
With most of the evangelical church rejecting almost all of these traditions and this calendar, it is no wonder that we have lost what it meant to convey.
In short, I do not see the Birth of Christ painted in pastels. I see it painted in vibrant colors, of thunder and lightning and glory and suffering and the great Light to come after Death.
Merry Christmas to you all. God be praised for the gift of His glorious Son.