What I'm Doing

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Explaining My Previous Post on Christmas

It has come to my attention that my previous entry wasn't terribly well explained, and, perhaps, a bit extreme. My point, regarding some people/groups not wanting to acknowledge that the holiday they are celebrating is Christmas, is that, in my opinion, it's not as big a deal as I've been hearing people make it, and I'm getting kind of tired of, as Dr. Mohler called it, the "exceedingly thin skin" some Christians have developed. Again, to quote Dr. Mohler, "...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," and "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 mentioned that I think it may be a good thing that the secular celebrations are becoming seperated from the sacred, and that the holiday non-Christians are celebrating isn't Christmas. I stand by that, but it does require some clarification:

1) "Christmas" is derived from the words "Christ's Mass". It is a holy day of obligation for traditional Christians (one of the two holiest days on the Christian calendar), a date which the Church long ago set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ*. As I explained in my previous post, Advent is the month leading up to Christmas in which the faithful prepare for the birth of Christ. The holiday is founded upon, and centers around, the central truth of Christianity: the Incartation, that mystery by which a holy God took upon Himself the flesh of men.

Many customs have grown up around Advent and Christmas, some as Christianized versions of pagan celebrations that occured in December, others as simply local traditions that spread to other cultures. Different cultures celebrate Christmas in different ways, but among the variations the point of it all is Christ. Without Christ, the celebration is no longer Christian, and it is no longer Christmas. Many good deeds may be done as part of the celebration, and good sentiments may reign over the hearts of every man, woman, and child, but if Christ is absent, it is not Christian.

Perhaps it is a little much to say that Christ is totally absent from our culture's celebrations of Christmas, although it has become harder to find Him (see, for instance, the television specials that proclaim that the meaning of the season is family/friends/loved ones). Certainly, many of the shoppers buying gifts at the stores and malls are doing so as a part of their celebration of Christmas, but many are doing so as a celebration of a cultural holiday which, as far as they are concerned, has nothing to do with Christ (or perhaps Jews celebrating Hanukkah).

Here's what I'm saying: if people don't want to celebrate Christmas, why not stop insisting that they still call it "Christmas"? Let them celebrate Festivus, or Generic-Nonoffensive-Holiday, and we will happily continue celebrating Christmas. This brings me to my next point.

2) I am not suggesting that Christians simply throw in the towel, pick up their toys, and go home. I am not suggesting that we simply say to the world, "Do whatever you want, we don't care." I am definately not suggesting that we, in any way, hide Christ from the world. Christ is the center of all that we do as Christians—He is what makes anything Christian. Rather, I am suggesting something similar to what Dr. Mohler said to his church: "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.'"

Christians should continue to engage non-Christians with the story of the Gospel, and Christmas is certainly a great time for that. However, I don't think that the way to go about it is to insist that non-Christians act like Christians and celebrate a Christian holiday that has no meaning to them. I also don't think that we should go around condemning those Christians who are trying to be sensitive to the fact that other people may not want to celebrate Christmas. Rather, I think that we need to take a step back and realize that we may have gotten things mixed up. To hear many "thin-skinned" Christians talk about it , it sounds like they believe that the way to change people's hearts is to change the culture (or to preserve the culture that is not a reality anymore). This, to me, seems akin to wanting a Porsche, and so taking your Geo Metro, modifying the body to look like a Porsche, and calling it a Porsche. It's not a Porsche, however well you may get it to look like one, because, under the exterior, it is still a Geo Metro. Rather, the way to change the culture is to change the hearts of the people.

So, in the end, let those who want to celebrate something other than Christmas celebrate it. Let us, as the Church, remember what we celebrate as we celebrate Christmas, and be always inviting those who will to join us in the celebration.

And a request for comments: does anyone agree, or am I just out of my mind? I know of a few people that read this—or, at least, have a subscription to it. Surely some of you have some thoughts, and maybe even better ideas on how to approach this subject. That's one reason why I post here; to subject my thoughts to the critique of anyone who may read them.

*I will note that not all Christians celebrate Christmas. The Puritans held to a form of worship that said that all worship must be explicitly from Scripture. As such, if I remember correctly, they did not sing hymns, but stuck only to the Psalms. They generally rejected the idea of "holy days," and, so, did not celebrate Christmas (however, they did, I believe, consider Sunday the Christian Sabbath, and, therefore, was set aside as a day of worship). In fact, when the Puritans came into power in England for a while, they outlawed Christmas.


Kristen said...

Sorry Matt, it seems silly to leave a comment when I can just talk to you.

This is much more reasonable than your last journal entry. It sounded like you wanted to become Amish in your last blog entry and forsake impacting our culture. This is a post I can much more strongly agree with.

I personally wish that we could get everyone to celebrate Christ at Christmas with us, but we've got to look at how we're doing it. The end doesn't justify any and all possible means. Not to mention most of the means we're using wouldn't work anyway. How boycotting stores is going to help I really don't know. Even if they caved to the pressure and put up signs saying "Merry Christmas," would that convince anyone else to celebrate Christ at Christmas?

I dunno, maybe that's even behind the times. Maybe it's not that we're fighting our battles the wrong way anymore. Maybe we've completely lost sight of the right battles and are fighting entirely the wrong ones. Why is it so important to have "Christmas" plastered across store fronts anyway? Don't we care more about the people? Shouldn't we care more about the people? Shouldn't we be praying for the owners of Target and Wal-Mart and for the employees and the shoppers? Don't we even care about people anymore?

CoderForChrist said...

I think your last point is very insightful. I do think that the people boycotting the stores care about other people; I think they are perhaps under the misguided notion that changing society will change the people, too. Well, they would admit that we had a Christian society before; if that theory were true, we wouldn't be facing this, anyway.

That sentiment is the same one Dr. Mohler ended with: if we are known mainly for boycotting stores over something like this, we've missed the point.

Thanks for posting to my blog, btw. Maybe it'll encourage others to post (and, this way, it's not just me blowing hot air). ;-)

Steven Finn said...

Hey Matt (and Kristen). The whole Christmas thing is a bit confusing to me. I don't grasp the holiday in the first place. I guess you could call me a puritan or something like that, but maybe a skeptic is a better word...not sure. I didn't grow up with Christmas or Easter. I don't have a problem with them, per se, but I don't understand what the big deal is one way or the other.

I love the idea of celebrating Christ's birth, but I think we should celebrate it 365 days a year. Why should it be a season, at that one that may or may not correspond to the season of His birth? I glory in the idea of celebrating Christ's death, His non-decaying state, and His resurrection. Should we celebrate it for only a day or even a season?

I go to the Christmas and Easter services and enjoy singing the hymns that correspond to His birth, but I am disappointed by the fact that we do not sing those same songs more than once a year. This is the Gospel! Should we focus on it more often?

As far as how we deal with culture in relation to Christmas and Easter, I am at the point of indifference with regard to the day's name. Let us love people 365 days a year, as was pointed out. I will quote Joshua Harris: "Terms don't define our lives; our lives define our terms." Are we more willing to give to the poor or do good deeds during this season than in others?

Again, I don't think I am against Christmas or Easter, but I am concerned that we are compartmentalizing "pure and undefiled religion." If a season helps remind people of Christ's birth and resurrection, I hope we do so with the intent that it enables worship of Christ for the other 11+ months of the year.

This is my different ten cents, not two.

Anonymous said...

i loved your post. my feathers have been quite ruffled in recent days due to pastor's calls for economic boycotts. you and molher already said a lot of what i think so i won't bother repeating it. glad to hear i'm not the only mindless christian out there.


Anonymous said...

Very Well Said!

Pete - http://www.surveyearn.biz/MysteryShopper/Mystery_Shopper.html - mystery shopping information