Shameless commercialism takes center stage, beginning on the Friday following Thanksgiving and continuing through the closeout sales that mark the end of the year.
It's almost as if everything we gave earnest thanks for on the fourth Thursday in November is suddenly not enough. Not good enough. Not new enough. Not pretty enough.
Wake me when it's over.
Christians across the world and most particularly in the United States seek to share the stage with the rampant commercialism with strident cries of "Foul" if some company, corporation or store clerk balks at extending or returning the obligatory Merry Christmas greeting. Action alerts fly across cyber-space and an entire town in Texas has mobilized against some hapless soul who dared to oppose the placement of a creche on public property. The fact that the traditional nativity scene is an idyllic presentation that compresses events that took months, if not years, to actually occur completely escapes the strident believers who hold that every symbol in the scene is holy, holy, holy. (I once took my Sunday School class to a small family dairy farm to show them a more realistic picture of what a stable would look like, smell like and feel like. It was a mild Sunday morning in late fall. Snow had fallen the night before and was already melting when we arrived, making the entire visit a little too real, even for the country kids who were part of the class.)
The hue and cry to keep Christ in Christmas has become an annual event, with letters written, picket signs painted and colorful pins worn declaring that Jesus is the reason for the season. I recognize the refrain. Was a time, not so very long ago, that I would have been found front and center, leading the charge.
Things have changed.
In the first place, Jesus is not the reason for the season and ne'er has been. History teaches us that this holiday is pagan in origin, and many of the favorite symbols of the season are also borrowed traditions from pagan celebrations, including the Christmas tree, mistletoe, yule logs and even the presents under the tree.
Secondly, there is nowhere in Scripture where a celebration of this sort is commanded, or even encouraged. From the Old Testament writers, we know that God was very specific when giving instruction about celebrations or festivals. God himself determined the when and the how for these celebrations. The only commemoration given to us under the new covenant is the Lord's Supper, found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
I hate to break it to my brothers and sisters in Christ, but Christmas is a tradition of men, for all of our good intentions. And as such, in many ways, it has become the antithesis of Christ's teachings, at least in the self-absorbed, self-fulfilling, self-satisfying culture that thrives in the United States.
The apostle Paul admonished believers in Rome "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." recorded in Romans 12:18.
In order to follow that Scripture, believers need to lay down their arms, especially in this manufactured cultural battle. The casualties are too high.
When I first came to work at the newspaper, I was warned that "church people are the least likely to forgive our mistakes." Thankfully, my experience has been just the opposite as I have made many mistakes and to-date, my brothers and sisters have been quick to forgive.
But when those in the world look at Christians at this time of year what do they see? Do they see the fruits of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Or do they see angry faces, and hear strident voices crying, "Keep Christ in Christmas!"?
Brothers and sisters, it ought not be so. This year, let Christ out of Christmas, loose him from the construction paper chains that circle the tree and let his light shine through you every day of the year. We can't afford any more casualties. Those we fight against are the very souls that may be forfeit if this battle continues.
Paul told the Ephesians that our struggle "is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm" in Ephesians 6:12. These forces of evil are untouched by this annual battle. In fact, while we're busy tilting at this brightly lit, festive windmill, they're prowling about, unfettered, seeking whom they can devour.
Believers have much to celebrate, at Christmastime and every day. Celebrate the whole of who Christ is: the babe lying in a manger; the gentle healer who touched and touches still, the hearts of men, changing them forever; the bleeding Savior who laid down his life for the sons of men; and the reigning and returning King of king and Lord of lords.
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than Christ." Colossians 2:8 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.