I'm always nervous about what new controversy will present itself as Christmas rolls around. In Texas, there remains a controversy over the placing of a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. In South Jersey, a controversy brews over a sign that reads, "Keep Christ in Christmas." Then comes the raging national debate over whether we should say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" as we greet one another during this season. As Christians, we have made this our fight, and who dares to stand in our way for the freedom to say "Merry Christmas?"
Nevermind, however, that a great number of Christians this year will give greater priority to their families and opening of presents than to Jesus himself. I say this because Christmas this year falls on a Sunday. Many churches have already announced that they will be canceling worship on Sunday to accommodate those who want to be with their families on Christmas. So Christians will stand for the right down at WalMart to keep Jesus' name in the seasonal greetings, but then dishonor Jesus by avoiding him in worship on the Lord's Day since it happens to fall on Christmas. Does that make sense? How does this not equate to making the commandment of God of no effect by our tradition (see Matt 15:6)? If anyone wants to know how Jesus feels about this, Matthew 15:1-9, along with chapter 23, would be a good start.
It’s painful to think about what this really demonstrates, namely, a Christianity without Christ. Is this now the depth of our offense? Is this ultimately the witness that we want to leave to the world, that our battle in the world should be over the freedom to say "Merry Christmas", but that we are indifferent about the freedom to worship Jesus? 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 is about.
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". 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." The conflict that we are experiencing at this time of year is over the world's hatred for Christ, not a right to greet. That offense is not what we like to think about in connection with the birth of Christ, but its something we cannot escape. Such hatred was the response of the world to the coming of Christ.
Ultimately, Christmas has nothing at all to do with our giving, but instead has everything to do with God lavishing down upon us the indescribable gift of his son. Christ the king came to lay down his life to save his people from their sin. This was the purpose for which the wise men came to worship. There was nothing greater than the truth that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them." This is God's answer to a world under the dominion of sin. That's what makes our message worth telling, and it requires so much more than a right to greet people with "Merry Christmas", that's cheap, that's easy. We've got a far geater message to now share with the world. But for the world to understand our message in any sort of meaningful way, it has to come in sincerity, and sincerity is a fruit that results from the life we receive from Christ as worshippers of him in Spirit and truth. Sincerity cannot come if we can so easily supplant him in worship if Christmas falls on the Sabbath. That kind of disregard is the height of hypocrisy.
Obnoxious Christians kill the message. Let the world see sincere Christians enjoying the liberty they have to worship the risen Christ, and they might begin to understand that Jesus is not just the reason for the season, but the reason for the whole of our existence.