by Johnathan Pritchett
apologist, contributing writer to SBCToday
Let's start with a prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for Christmas. Thank you for sending Jesus to Earth, born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit. Under his power, the disciples were able to transform an Empire in a few short centuries. Because of this, paganism was eventually toppled as mainstream, and regardless of the actual date and time of year Jesus was born, your Church declared victory over paganism by celebrating Christian events on dates that may have been pagan holidays. Thankfully, what we have now as Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, the giving of presents, the singing of songs, and the time with family, is so much better than the stupid pagan nonsense that it could have been. Help us to keep what's primary about Christmas, the advent, primary, and to enjoy all that comes with Christmas because of it. Forgive those who celebrate the Christmas, but who are ungrateful to give praise and thanks that without Christ, there would also be no Santa, presents, carols, or anything else they like about it.
In Jesus' name, Amen
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This time of year is very special. We celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. For Christians, this is the primary meaning of Christmas. It is because of this, all other meaning associated with Christmas is possible. In Christian circles, we are right to remind one another of what is often referred to as “the true meaning of Christmas.” But I like to call it “the primary meaning of Christmas.”
Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It is because this gift of God, all the other things everyone loves about Christmas flows. I love all of it. I love, first and foremost, Jesus and the celebration of his birth. However, I also, secondarily, enjoy the special worship services, the special time with friends and family, the presents, Santa, elves, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas decorations, Christian Christmas carols, secular Christmas carols, and everything else about it as well. It is important to remember that the “everything else” doesn't distract or drown out the primary meaning of Christmas, unless one allows all of that to do so. The way one does not allow it to do so is to keep Jesus primary, not just as it relates to the significance of the advent, but remembering that without Jesus' birth, there would be none of that other stuff that even non-Christians enjoy about Christmas. The lost need that reminder as well. Without Jesus, December 25 would either be some stupid pagan silliness, or nothing but another day on the calendar. This is something our secular friends need to be reminded of when they whine and cry about the phrase “Merry Christmas” or protest a Nativity Scene on public property somewhere. Seriously...get a life.
So note, Christmas is not complete without its Scrooges. We have Scrooges both inside and outside of the Church. This is where the apologist in me wants to rail against them, hoping that the Spirit, rather than ghosts, will show up to set them straight. I hear the following all the time: “Christmas was a pagan holiday...Christmas trees are pagan...people are too materialistic...Jesus didn't celebrate Christmas...we don't know when Jesus was born...” and so on. Some Christians, and many non-Christians and secularists alike make these sorts of complaints.
By way of response. I offer the following. Indeed, Dec. 25 may have been a pagan holiday. So what? Jesus is Lord, and the Church demonstrated his Lordship by declaring victory over pagan holidays by replacing them with Christian holidays. Christmas trees may have been pagan, but again, the star or angel or whatever we top them with points back to the birth narratives of Jesus, which also, again, points back to the victory of Jesus over paganism. Yes, people can be too materialistic, but that all that means is that we need to remind them of the primary meaning of Christmas, and remind them that every good gift is from God. Acts 20:35 records a teaching of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than receive. It never says it is not blessed to receive. Were it so, there would be no reason to give since accepting the gift would not be a blessing. We should be more blessed to give, and blessed and grateful to receive. God loves joy, and enjoys it when His people are merry. So, while materialism is a problem, it is not a killjoy problem, but on the contrary, it is a teaching and discipleship opportunity. Jesus was selfless. However, his parents, and his followers throughout the ages have celebrated his birth, and it is good to do so. Thus, this objection that “Jesus didn't celebrate Christmas” is simply stupid and needs to be labeled as such. As for not knowing the exact date or season of his birth, this is irrelevant as well. What we do know, and what even many atheist scholars will affirm, is that Jesus was born. Celebrating it, and focusing our hearts and minds at a particular time of year for reflection of the incarnation is most welcome. December 25th is as good a day as any, and that it replaced some silly pagan thing as an act of declaring victory over it makes it all the better time to do it.
This and every Christmas, keep what is primary, primary, and enjoy all those other wonderful things that we love about Christmas in addition to the birth of Jesus. By keeping the primary primary, it comes with the recognition that without Jesus, none of the secondary meanings of Christmas would exist. Thus, all the truth, goodness, and beauty of this time of year can be embraced wholeheartedly with the joy, blessing, and thanksgiving that God wants us to have as we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, God is blessed by us when we do so.