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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Albert Mohler on the Secularization of Christmas

For those who don't know, Dr. R. Albert Mohler is the current President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to this, he has a radio show, which is also published as a podcast, to which I am currently subscribed. On yesterday's show (the podcast comes out a day late), he gave a short blurb on the issue of Christmas and the secularization of our culture that I found to be rather refreshing. I couldn't find a transcription of the show, so I went ahead and transcribed the section of interest (you can listen to the show here):

Let me ask you a question: honestly, is Christmas getting too commercialized, or is it not commercialized enough? You know, when you listen to some of the debates out there these days, it's hard to know which side some people are on.

Last year, we did a "Scrooge Alert"; we were watching very closely what was happening when, for instance, parades were changed from Christmas parades to holiday parades, or when people said "Look, you can't have a Christmas tree in a courthouse, because that's an establishment of religion," or when companies said to employees, "You can't say 'Merry Christmas.'" Well, folks, I'm all over that; that's ridiculous. That is a denial of religious liberty. It is a denial of the obvious. After all, when the federal government has a legal holiday on December 25, is it supposed to be because they just chose the 25th of December for no reason in particular?

But, I have to tell you, I think some Christians are developing an exceedingly thin skin. And, I'm listening to many Christians say, "Well, you know, we just need to get these stores, and malls, and all the rest to make it all about Christmas." Well, lets just remember what these stores are trying to do. They are trying to make a profit. They are trying to sell a product. They are trying to entice you in, in order that you will buy things that you will give during the Christmas season. And, you know, it used to be that Christians were very concerned that Christmas was getting too commercial; now, there's some who think that maybe it's not commercial enough.

I don't know that there's any, just, clear and absolutely irrefutable principle that we should put into place here, but I would suggest that we ought to make sure that we are celebrating a Christian Christmas before we start going after all those who may be confused about the holiday season, or whatever it is they call it. Yesterday, when I was preaching at my church, I said, "Look, this is the deal: make sure that your Christmas cards have a Christmas message; make sure that your Christmas conversation is about Christ; make sure that you are focused on this. Use it as an opportunity for winsome witness, but I don't think it's really effective to say we're going to boycott a company because it has 'Happy Holidays' out front rather than 'Merry Christmas.'"

Yes, I'm very disappointed at the secularization of the culture; we talk about that a lot. Yes, I'm very, very concerned about the regime of political correctness and how it is constricting Christian liberty. But, I have to say, if we as Christians are known mainly for complaining about "Happy Holidays" at the store, of all things, or out in the public square, then we're probably missing something.

I know that, at my church, I've heard a lot of the talk he's speaking of here. I've even been told that there is a list of stores being circulated that we ought to be boycotting because they don't say "Merry Christmas".

I was pleased to know that this is not an attitude that is universal among conservative evangelicals, and I agree with most of what Dr. Mohler says here. I do think that the whole "Happy Holidays" thing is really about as silly as using "C.E." (Common Era) and "B.C.E." (Before Common Era) instead of "BC" (Before Christ) and "AD" (Anno Domini—"year of Our Lord"). As Mohler says, "when the federal government has a legal holiday on December 25, is it supposed to be because they just chose the 25th of December for no reason in particular?"

However, perhaps this increasing disconnect between the secular and sacred celebrations of December 25 is a good thing. Maybe this is the answer to Christians' wailing over the lost meaning of Christmas: let the world continue its pagan celebrations of the gods of Bacchus and Mammon, and we Christians will seperate ourselves from that and worship Jesus, our God and King. Consider this description of secular vs. sacred Christmas celebrations attributed to C.S. Lewis (I don't know what book it is supposed to be from, nor whether it really was written by Lewis, but it is very insightful). The non-Christian world is not celebrating Christmas, and I will be more than happy if they will stop calling it that. Call it Exmas* or Festivus, for all I care, but if it has nothing to do with Christ, don't call it Christmas.

Besides, it is difficult to deny that the Amercian churches' celebrations of Christmas has been tainted by the culture when some churches are even deciding not to meet for public worship on Christmas, which this year falls on a Sunday (so not only are they not worshipping on Christmas, which is understandable, but they are not worshipping on the Lord's Day because it happens to be Christmas). Michael Spencer has some good comments on that story over at his blog, The Internet Monk.

I'm not suggesting that we simply hide Christ during Christmas. Rather, maybe we should recover the idea of Advent. Advent, in the Christian calendar, is a holy season of the four weeks or so before Christmas where Christians enter into the Gospel story at the time just before the birth of Christ (the Christian calendar then takes Christians through the Gospel story through Good Friday and Easter and to Pentecost). Advent is a time when we join in the anticipation of the birth of the Messiah. That's right, Advent is not the "Christmas season". Christmas has not yet occured; we are waiting for it, and, in the meantime, we are to be preparing the way, preparing ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Even if we cannot totally abandon Exmas right now—or ever—, perhaps we can begin moving toward Advent in our own lives. Take extra time for prayer this season, and seek harder after Christ. Let your focus be turned anew to Him. On Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day, be sure to celebrate Christ. My family has, since I was little, had a tradition of baking a "happy birthday, Jesus" cake, reading the Christmas story (no, not the "You'll shoot your eye out" one, the one with the baby, and the shepherds, and the angels), and singing happy birthday to Jesus before going to bed on Christmas Eve. Yes, it seems a little silly, but it has reminded us, as we anticipated the gifts we'd receive the next morning, of the Gift that was given to the world: Emmanuel, Christ our King.

*On second thought, leave "X-mas" to us, as well. "X" is an abbreviation for "Christ" (Greek: Χριστός); the "X" is used as it resembles the Greek letter chi (Χ), and, contrary to popular belief, is not a denial of Christ. The abbreviation has been in use for quite some time in Christian writings where, for sake of space, "xian" has been used instead of "Christian", "xmas" instead of "Christmas", etc. It is not some nefarious scheme conjured up by "the Liberals", or athiests, or what have you, in order to obscure Christ.

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