I don’t know if you have been following the culture wars, but every year the debates over Christmas rights seem to intensify. This year the clash really came to a head over whether we can say "Merry Christmas". The secularists rage for the right to say Happy Holidays, and Christians the right to keep Christ in Christmas. Bill O' Reilly also made this his fight, and the other day he had a Walmart head come onto his program who gave public support for their employees to greet in the Christian manner. Both ended up in agreement that people should be able to say "whatever they want to say". As Christians, we have made this our fight, and who dares to stand in our way for the freedom to say "Merry Christmas". Anything wrong with this?
It’s painful to think about what this really demonstrates, namely, a Christianity all out of priority. Is this now the depth of our offense? Is that what our Christianity has now boiled down to? Is this ultimately the impression that we want to leave upon the world, that our battle in the world should be over the freedom to say Merry Christmas. Isn't there more to our message, and the offense far greater? The devil must gloat at a time like this, it's just what he wants. People will never be forced to think beyond the birth of Christ to what his presence and the coming of his kingdom really means.
When Christ was born, it wasn’t a fight over Christmas greeting cards, or rights for people to sing Christmas carols, or even to give presents. His coming inaugurated a war over the eternal destiny of souls; his whole presence was a stumbling block to the world, and his message the height of offense. Using the words of Luke, "this child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel". So what we are experiencing in terms of the world's hatred for Christianity is not ultimately tied to a right to greet, but to the person and work of Christ. Such antagonism goes much deeper. We are receiving a little glimpse of the world's ultimate hatred for Christ, something that he experienced not only later in his humiliation, but from his very birth.
Christ's arrival on the scene of history was met with nothing but opposition and murderous attack. From his birth, he had to flee for his life. Even by his own he was "despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief". That offense is not what we like to think about in connection with the birth of Christ. Instead of rags, we want riches. Instead of a feeding trough, we want a cozy manger. Instead of a crown of thorns, we want a halo. And, ultimately, instead of a humbled Jesus on a donkey going to the cross, we love to keep Jesus untouched in Bethlehem; this way he is non-offensive and non-requiring.
For many, such a message may seem to threaten a joyful celebration of the birth of Christ. But if understanding the depths of Christ's humiliation seems to threaten your joy, you should stop and ask if you have come perilously close to losing sight of the meaning Christianity altogether. The true celebration of Christmas is not trees and ornaments, cookies and warm fuzzes; true celebration is actually bowing in awe before an announcement that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them". True Christianity is to drop to the knees in genuine sorrow for sin, and embracing "the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world". If there is to be a celebration it is to "ponder in our hearts" this truth.
Thus, the character of what we have come to call Christmas has nothing at all to do with our giving, but in reality has everything to do with God lavishing down upon us his indescribable gift from another country, the gift of his son. For me, that requires so much more than a right to greet people with "merrry Christmas", that's cheap, that's easy; it requires that I, in sincerity and concern for this lost world, go and tell others the wonderful things that God has done for me. It requires that I invite others to church hear this good news, with the prayerful hope that they too, like me, might be brought under the power of the gospel. May we, everyday, set ourselves to think upon God's indescribable gift to lost sinners.