I see this admonition often this time of year. I always thought it was aimed at that segment of our population that secularizes Christmas. You know–the ones who insist on saying Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas, who don’t want any carols sung in school programs, who are fine with Santa but not Jesus Christ. That’s Christ. As in Christ-mas. The rest of us tend to feel like Christmas has been stolen from us and I’ve heard more than one person insist, with a certain degree of belligerence, that they’re going to wish people a Merry Christmas whether it offends them or not.
While I share the sentiment, I also find it ironic that we’d insist on our way when celebrating the birth of a Savior who sacrificed not just a tradition but his very life for the same people we care little about offending. Just who is supposed to keep Christ in Christmas—the secular world or those who call Him Savior?
As far as I can tell, Jesus never chided those who were outside the synagogue for their lack of belief. He didn’t expect Gentiles to observe Jewish law and ritual. Should we expect the unchurched to observe Christmas as a religious holiday? Wouldn’t that be like expecting the Romans to observe Passover? Can we really demand that people with little regard for Jesus make him the focal point of the holiday?
Just when was Christ deleted from Christmas anyway? How did that happen? Who is responsible?
Jesus’ harshest criticism targeted the religious leaders for acting pious while not carrying out the spirit of the law (see Matthew 23). They set aside the law and the prophets in order to observe their own traditions. Hmmm. I wonder what he would say about our traditions.
Actually, Christmas itself is nothing more than a tradition. No one bothered to record the date of Jesus’ birth, which leads me to believe the date wasn’t that important to God. Not like Easter, which is associated with Passover, a holiday instituted by God. Christmas was established on the last day of Saturnalia by church leaders who hoped to Christianize the pagans. This Roman festival was observed for a week in December and involved drunkenness, singing naked in the streets, bringing gifts to the emperor, and much sexual license, including rape. Most of our Christmas traditions can be traced back to pagan Saturnalia practices, a fact which prompted the Puritans to ban the observance of Christmas. Today, these traditions have been sanitized and given religious meaning so that, now when we sing in the street, we do it while sober and fully clothed. Certainly, that makes it easier to focus on Jesus Christ.
Personally, I admit that the vast majority of my focus during the Christmas season involves thinking about, searching for, buying and wrapping gifts. Is that true for you? If so, does that mean we’ve contributed to the secularization of Christmas by our overriding attention to gift-buying? Imagine how much time we could devote to focusing on Christ if we eliminated the gifts. Keep the decorating and music and everything else but move the gifts to Thanksgiving or some other time. Imagine the impact on retailers if Christians everywhere chose to forego Christmas shopping in the interest of keeping Christ where He belongs this season.
I’m not calling for a boycott on gift-giving, although I think that would be an interesting experiment. My point is that the admonition to “Keep Christ in Christmas” might not be a message for secular society. Instead, it might be aimed at me. It’s my job to keep Christ at the center of my focus this season. Sure, I can wish everyone a Merry Christmas. But I doubt anyone will be attracted to Jesus Christ if I blame them for stealing my holiday and banning my Savior. I don’t believe anyone is as responsible for secularizing Christmas as I am. I give it up every year when I set aside the Savior for the sake of my traditions.
“Keep Christ in Christmas.” Yep, that was written for me.