If I asked you the question "What does Christmas mean to you?", I would probably get a mountain of responses from my readers. Each family has developed their own family traditions around the celebration of Jesus' birth. Images of decorated trees, home made short bread, colourfully wrapped presents, family, eggnog, a glowing fireplace are just a few of the things that spring to mind. But not everyone understands or celebrates Christmas for it's actual purpose. Times have been changing for a while now but a growing divide is becoming more apparent that forces us to make a decision on where we stand when it comes to Christmas.
Increasingly we are seeing Christmas dropped and Holidays being used. Stores now force their employees to greet customers with Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Schools dropped Christmas concerts a long time ago for Holiday Concerts and now Winter Celebrations. One school in Ottawa has even changed the date to February in an attempt to be more inclusive. One mayor in the Montreal area made the decision not to do any decorations because it might offend the minority. So it is moving in a direction not only to remove Jesus from the celebration but to get rid of the celebration altogether. But then again Santa replaced Jesus a long time ago, and the Church even helped with this. In fact churches are going a step further in killing Christmas this year.
Many churches are cancelling their worship services because the 25thy falls on a Sunday. Some are putting a service on the 24th, others have developed CD's so families can celebrate at home but whatever mechanism they have put in place, they have replaced Jesus with the family. We all agree that the family is key in our society but family is not more important than Jesus Christ. The date is not what is important because we all know Jesus was not born on December 25th, but what is important is that we are celebrating, as God's people, the giving of the greatest gift ever received. It is a witness to the nations, a day to glorify our God, a day to set aside our self interest and to celebrate in corporate worship this incredible event. However, some churches are instead putting the emphasis on the family.
I will be honest here, I am glad for both of these things, the growing divide in our society and the growing divide in the Church. We are now being forced to make some clear decisions. For far too long too many people have claimed to be Christian but have never had to live differently from the world. There was always a wink and a nudge under the covers of where people really stood and in the Church we have had a lot of watered down doctrine happening. Now we begin to see more clearly and are able to make a distinct decision as to where we stand. We can now make Christmas about Jesus; not the family, not presents, not food but Jesus.
It is about time we get the real message about Christmas out there. It is not about Peace On Earth or even about a baby in a manger. We may choose to remember the circumstances of Jesus' insertion into time but the real Christmas message is this:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
The message is not that Jesus was born in a manger but the reason he came in the first place. The world needs to hear the clear message that a Light was given to us so that we could see clearly and make a decision. This is what the Church should be celebrating and testifying to, not being self-absorbed in the worship of family:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (John 3:19-21)
These are the words of the one whose birthday we celebrate on the 25th. This was his purpose and the reason we celebrate. We will not be able to convince everyone to celebrate for this same reason but we who say we are followers of Jesus should be able to keep it straight in our heads and hearts. It is when the Church begins to fail to understand this that we know that the end is truly in sight. The world may not understand the purpose of the celebration but let's make sure we do.