The Reason for the Season

With the Christmas season in full swing, holiday cheer is often accompanied by seasonal spats. Conservative Christians maintain the traditional "Merry Christmas" greeting, but it has become increasingly fashionable to utilize the more innocuous phrase, "Happy Holidays."

Proponents of the latter argue that this ensures greater religious tolerance, political correctness, and avoiding the constitutionally-prohibited establishment of a state religion. The politically correct are countered with charges of secularization to a sacred and ancient celebration.

For fairness’ sake, it should not be ignored that America is a melting pot of ethnic celebrations, and that Christmas--though the most commercially recognized--is not the only wintry festival that is commonly celebrated. Conversely, it is true that one cannot simply "take Christ out of Christmas" any more than they could pc the menorah out of Hanukkah. Thus, the principles of both sides retain a certain necessary credibility.

However, the bickering of those claiming the name of Christ has mired the discussion with spite and charges of heresy to those who simply concede a wider range of American traditions than the Judeo-Christian one. Regardless of whether or not America was born a Christian nation, it is evident enough today that such is no longer the case. Much to the chagrin of theonomists, Christians hold no biblically-approved monopoly on culture or the winter solstice; we would do well to remember this.

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It may be helpful, then, to refocus one's ritual perspective. Many Christians have taken it upon themselves to wage war over these terms--for what purpose I am unsure. But efforts, nonetheless, are being made to "reclaim Christmas." To this I posit the following: for whom are we trying to reclaim Christmas? Does God care? This might appear a bit dodging, but I would ask those who find this fight credible to honestly ask this. Where would we find the celebration of Christmas established in the New Testament? Not only are such texts nonexistent, but even narrative accounts of Christ's birth are surprisingly lacking. In fact, of the four accounts of his life and ministry, only two record his birth (Matthew and Luke).

Now, if Christ’s birth is given so little attention in Scripture, under what pretense do we bear righteous indignation over the supposed secularization of this event? This is not intended to diminish the important theological significance of the incarnation; rather, one should quickly discover that as far as ritual significance goes, the incarnation is not given the greatest priority.

God's gift of love to mankind is encapsulated in his son, Jesus. Through the incarnation, we see the intent of God's love: the desire to fellowship with man as first prefigured through the Jewish feast of tabernacles (cf. Mt 1:23; Rev. 21:3). When Christ rose from the dead, we see the power of God's love: the resurrection of Christ showed that his love was stronger than death itself (1 Cor. 15). But in Christ's death we see the extent of his love: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:13). In fact, Jesus makes it clear that it is his death that will draw men (Jn. 12:32). Certainly, the other two elements have an obligatory importance, but it is the crucifixion of Christ (not his incarnation or resurrection), that is given ritual prominence.

The Eucharist is the focal point of all Christian worship as it draws us to the very reason for our salvation: Christ's shed blood for the remission of sins. Its importance is noteworthy as it is one of only two ritual commands given to the Christian (i.e. baptism). Perhaps the inflated importance of Christmas is due in part to the disappearing importance of the Eucharist in the evangelical Protestant church. The Eucharist is commonly held only once a month, and is often restricted in many churches to members alone (due to reading 1 Cor. 11:27 out of context with 1 Cor. 5:12).

As Christians, we have the right and privilege to celebrate any aspect of Christ’s life as we desire, including his birth through Christmas and his resurrection through Easter. But we are not given a choice about his crucifixion; to ignore this is to spurn our own salvation. Thus, in choosing our battles over terms, it may be wise to consider the biblical precedence for pounding the "reason for the season" into our fellow brethren's heads.

In conclusion, I wish a Merry Christmas to all who will accept it. And to the rest, Happy Holidays.