Why Christians, of all people, shouldn’t be cranky during Christmas
by Daniel Darling
Have you noticed lately that it’s the Christians who are often the most cranky during the Christmas season? Complaining has almost become required. We hear sermons on how to deal with the stress of Christmas. We read ominous-sounding emails and Facebook posts on the so-called “War on Christmas.” And of course, cable news shows ramp up the debates on whether an elderly greeter in Dinkytown, USA, articulated her “Merry Christmas” greeting in a way that satisfies the Westminster Confession.
And let’s not even get into the tiresome annual debate about the chubby guy with the beard decked out in red from head-to-toe. Pastors, as part of their sober calling, are often summoned to decide whether using Santa wrapping paper is grounds for church discipline.
Is it just me, or have we Christians — the ones who know and believe God visited this sin-soaked world in the form of a baby so He could save the world from sin — completely sucked the joy out of what should be the most joyous season?
My goal this Christmas season is to call Christians back to joy. These are five reasons why.
1. Christmas is a rare time when the entire world stops and listens to the miracle of the incarnation. Yes, our culture is becoming more post-Christian, and yes, there are things that should trouble us as a society. Have you, however, considered that most of the world stops what they’re doing for a month to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ?
Of course, most people shopping for that last-minute iTunes gift card at the drug store probably aren’t pondering the Baby who received gifts from the magi. Still, even the most hardened skeptic is subject to carols that extol the theology of the first Advent and at least minimal knowledge of the Christmas story.
More than 2,000 years after a Jewish baby was born in a cattle trough, the world’s calendar marks time to stop and consider this event in human history. This fact alone should cause Christians to be full of joy.
2. Christmas is an opportunity to share the good news of Christ’s birth. If there’s a war on Christmas, it isn’t the politically correct school boards who ban Christmas trees for faculty parties, it’s the Enemy’s attempt to get Christians to be defensive. Yes, there’s a reason for the season, but let’s give the watching world, lost in their sins and trespasses, a reason to celebrate Christmas.
In other words, if Christmas really is about Christ and not Santa, smelly trees, and knee-capping shoppers in Walmart, then it should be Christians who lead the way in joyfully living out the story we claim deserves center stage. The harried cashier who forgets to utter, “Merry Christmas” as you ring up your third iPad is in need of a Christian who, by their countenance, demonstrates why this season is the basis for the world’s hope. Let’s not demand unregenerate people acknowledge our Jesus. Let’s make our worship so obvious and compelling that they can’t help but worship Him.
3. Christmas reminds us of a gift-giving King and compels us to give to others. A chronic complaint is that Hollywood and Madison Avenue have conspired to make Christmas more about getting stuff than about Jesus. There’s truth to this gripe and yet, we as Christians must not allow our critique of culture to adopt a minimalist, bland view of God.
Jesus Himself is God’s grand gift to us. His life, death, and resurrection compel us to be gift-givers to others. The wise men understood this. They brought their best to the baby King. And so should we, both by pledging our lives and loyalty to Jesus, and by extending ourselves in service to others.
Jesus Himself is God’s grand gift to us. His life, death, and resurrection compel us to be gift-givers to others.
Properly understood, the exchange of gifts on December 25 doesn’t have to be an exercise in consumerism. The gospel can transform greedy takers into generous givers. And in doing so, we reflect God, who delights in giving good things to His children.
4. We’ve been invited to sit at the King’s table and eat of His bountiful feast. We tend to think, as Christians, that the only time we can express the real meaning of the season is during a Christmas Eve service or during the production of the annual Christmas pageant. Though that worship is beautiful, important, and necessary, it’s not the only way Jesus’ incarnation is celebrated.
The actual gathering of people in homes, the eating of food, the opening of gifts, the festive decorations, and the singing of carols — this, too, is part of the story. As Christians, we can see this as a picture of the invitation we have into God’s home and to His table. In ancient times, great victories were celebrated with feasts. To sit at someone’s table and eat his food were signs of joy and intimacy. This is why the Lord’s Supper has so much meaning for God’s people. Every time we eat the bread and drink the wine, we’re reminded that because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we can now dine with God. We’re no longer cast out, alienated by sin.
And so it is that Christmas, the celebration of God’s joyful entrance into a sinful world, is a grand feast that mirrors the feast we’ll experience in heaven at God’s table. This is the peace the angels proclaimed, that the dividing wall between God and man was now shattered by the sacrifice of Jesus. And the powers of darkness, the enemy who seduced us away from our Creator, has been defeated.
5. Christmas reminds us that Jesus is our rightful King and there is no other. Almost every year, as a pastor, I get asked, “Is it OK to let my kids play with Santa Claus?” And I always answer yes. Sure, there’s a way to over-worship Santa. If the only Christmas theology your children get is from schmaltzy Hallmark movies, you might have a problem on your hands. But if you, as a parent, are doing faithful work in evangelizing, discipling, and modeling the gospel for your children, a month of the fat guy in the red suit won’t destroy that.
Moreover, our defensiveness about Santa or even about the presence of other religions in our culture at Christmas tells us less about those false idols and more about our weak theology. The real Christmas story makes a bold statement. It says that Jesus is the rightful King of this universe and that there’s no other. If we believe this, then Santa or any other Christmas character is but a laughable, make-believe work of fiction. It’s almost silly to see Santa as a threat to Jesus, as if he posed a real challenge to our Savior’s kingship.
Our defensiveness about Santa or even about the presence of other religions in our culture at Christmas tells us less about those false idols and more about our weak theology.
Faith in Christ sees Santa wrapping paper, “Happy Holidays” signs, and interfaith celebrations at school as harmless. Because we know who the real King is, we understand that He’s not white-knuckling another December 25, as if any of this threatens His sovereign plan for the world.
So take in the sights and the sounds of this Christmas season. Yes, keep worship of Christ at the center of your season. But let go of the fretful stress, and be a worshipful, joyful messenger this Christmas season. Meditate on the beautiful mystery of the incarnation, and let this good news spill out into every conversation you have this season. When someone searching for the truth asks, you can begin by saying, “Have you ever considered the story at the heart of Christmas? Let me give you the reason why I have real joy.” •
Daniel Darling is the vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville, Tenn. He’s the former senior pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the suburbs of Chicago. The author of several books, including his latest release Activist Faith (NavPress), Daniel and his wife, Angela, have four children.
This article originally appeared in the December, 2013 issue of HomeLife. Click here to subscribe.