You can predict that it will happen every year. Some well-meaning Christians will be outraged at the wider culture for changing how we celebrate Christmas. It used to be that ‘Merry Xmas’ was enough to get people upset; now ‘Happy Holidays’ can cover Christian, Jewish and general end-of-year frivolity for non-religious people. Starbucks in the USA copped the biggest backlash this year with people very upset on social media over their choice to not write ‘Merry Christmas’ on their cups but to have plain red ones instead.
I assure you that this is not that kind of blog post.
Realistically, our culture has moved a long way from Judeo-Christian beliefs for the most part. But for most people in Australia, whatever you want to call the celebration this kind of year, it has been a very long time since it had anything to do with Jesus.
I have to say that I have some sympathy for the traditional reformed position that we should not celebrate Christmas or Easter as there is no Biblical directive to do so. But as the wider culture does recognize Christmas, we do have opportunities as Christians and churches to speak into that culture with the counter-cultural message of the gospel.
What I want to challenge and encourage Christians with in this blog post is to consider what place Jesus has in Christmas for them. It is easy to point the finger at institutions who water down Christianity to have no overtones of Jesus in it; but ‘they’ are not the problem. After all, why would non-Christian institutions celebrate Jesus anyway? We need to look at ourselves and our hearts.
I suspect that for many (even most?) Christians, Jesus is not really the focus of this time of year. I know that sounds somewhat scandalous, but hear me out. If you were to eavesdrop on a Christian Christmas dinner and then a non-Christian Christmas dinner, would you note wild differences? Or would the conversation at both be family issues, the food, holiday plans, and presents? Maybe the Christian Christmas dinner would have a brief devotion or Bible reading in it.
And what do most Christian kids look forward to at Christmas? Probably the same as their non-Christian friends, the traditional presents.
How do Christians keep Jesus the focus this time of year? Well, really the same as we should any time of year. God has given us the means of grace, prayer, the Bible and the preaching of it, and the sacraments. There is a real danger that amidst all of our other plans and end-of-year celebrations we neglect these wonderful gifts God has given us to celebrate like those who don’t know Jesus. Based on past experience, as life gets busier my devotional life can drop off; it is no coincidence that then I start to feel more irritable and less content as I focus personally less on the wonder of Jesus. We can also miss a church service or two; after all, church services are on every week, and this concert or party is only on once…it makes logical sense, but it shows where our values lie when we make a choice like that.
Don’t neglect church or prayer in pursuit of parties and presents.
So what is there that is Christmas-specific that can help us focus on Jesus in our traditions and celebrations? Here are some ideas:
- An advent calendar in the house, with a Bible verse or two each day, can make sure the kids don’t just focus on the lollies but that Jesus is talked about;
- If you have kids, think through how you can avoid presents being the main focus. Some do this by eliminating them, some by reducing, some by introducing other traditions;
- Church attendance and celebration on Christmas Day, possibly with non-Christian family and friends, is a great tradition to repeat. The day then has a significant chunk taken up with the means of grace which cannot help but focus your mind in the right place;
- Find some way to celebrate with your church family. Our church has a lunch after church at Christmas for those with no family in Perth, and it is always well attended and encouraging;
- Try to carve out some quiet somewhere in what is a busy period. And just pray. Thank God for Jesus, which we should do every day.
Jesus is the reason for the season, for Christians anyway. Let’s make sure He is in practice as well.