Friday, December 22, 2023

Christmas Without Christ

Santa doesn't belong in church. This is what we've been talking about all week, and what it boils down to is that when we bring Santa into our churches, he competes with Jesus. At Christmas. And a lot of the time, it's Santa who steals the show. 

Why does it even matter? 

It matters because this world would love nothing more than to have Christmas without Jesus. They've been slowly pushing Him to the side for a long time, and it just boggles my mind how willing the church is to help them do it. 

There are a lot of members of the church that no longer believe that Christmas is an exclusively Christian holiday. They are so wrapped up in tinsel and caught up in lights that it doesn't even strike them as odd to see Santa in church. After all, it's Christmas. Duh. And Santa is a big part of Christmas.

This week, I got caught up in a conversation (that didn't go very well) about the "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas" debate. We keep saying that it's more appropriate to say "Happy Holidays" because not everyone celebrates Christmas and some families celebrate one of a number of other holidays that fall during this time - Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Diwali being just a few of the examples commonly cited. 

And listen, I'm not someone who gets all bent out of shape about someone saying Happy Holidays to me. Whatever is your joy. 

But what I do get upset - really, heartbroken - about is when someone or some place is all decked out in distinctly Christmas decor, then will only say Happy Holidays. We never see this with Hanukkah. No one puts a menorah on display and writes "Happy Holidays!" in big letters underneath it. No one hangs Diwali lights and shouts, "Happy Holidays!" But they will put a little image of a barn under a star, or even the star itself, or maybe they bring in a stable full of animals (but no baby Jesus, of course), and then declare, Happy Holidays!

No, friend. You have decked yourself out in Christmas, and you don't get to Christmas without Christ. There is no Christmas without Christ. 

But this is where we are. For so much of the world, Christmas is a cultural holiday - it's a time when we come together to celebrate our families, hang out, eat cookies, and give presents. Millions of families in developed countries celebrate Christmas without ever thinking it has anything at all to do with Christ. 

Then, we bring Santa into our churches and tell them they're right. 

Friends, what is cultural about Christmas does not belong in church. Period. Church is the one place where we ought to be able to stake an exclusive claim to the stable and not apologize for it, and yet, here we are, apologizing for it. Using a little culture to make a connection. Putting Santa in Bethlehem...because we think it will make more persons come and hear our message. 

But our message ends up being nothing more than "we have added something to the Christmas that you know, and that something is Jesus" and all of a sudden, Jesus looks like something special we do as Christians to "boost" the season above what the world does instead of being the reason for the season. He doesn't look essential to the world; He looks secondary. 

We are losing our witness, and at Christmas of all times. 

And if you don't make a distinctive statement on the day that celebrates this incredible moment when God did something absolutely extraordinary - on the day that He became flesh and was born into this world to live among us as Immanuel - what hope do you have to make a distinctive statement on any regular, normal, humdrum day of the year? 

If Christ is not central - no, not even central; if Christ is not exclusive in your Christmas, then it doesn't matter how much you've crowded into it, something is missing.  

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