I always thought this admonition was aimed at that segment of our population that secularizes Christmas. 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–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.
I find it a little ironic that we’d insist on our way when celebrating the birth of a Savior who sacrificed not merely a tradition but his very life for the same people we are determined to offend. Just who is supposed to keep Christ in Christmas—the secular world or those who call Him Savior?
I don’t recall Jesus ever chiding those who were outside the synagogue for their lack of belief. He didn’t expect Gentiles to observe Jewish law and ritual. And yet, we expect the unchurched to observe Christmas as a religious holiday? Wouldn’t that be like expecting the British to observe our 4th of July? Can we really demand that people with little regard for Jesus make him the focal point of the holiday?
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. I wonder what He would say about our traditions.
Actually, Christmas itself is little 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. He never made it a feast or holy day, like Passover. Instead, 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 entire observance of Christmas. Today, such traditions have been sanitized and given religious meaning so that, now when we sing in the street, we do it sober and fully clothed.
I must admit the vast majority of my focus during the Christmas season involves thinking about, searching for, buying and wrapping gifts. Is that true for you? Sure, we rationalize the tradition by associating it with the gift of God’s son to us. But if we’re honest, aren’t we contributing to the secularization of Christmas by our overriding attention to gift-buying?
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” isn’t a message for secular society. Instead, it’s aimed at me. At us who believe. It’s our job to keep Christ at the center of our focus this season. Go ahead and wish everyone a Merry Christmas, if you insist. But I doubt anyone will be attracted to Jesus Christ if we do so with a self-righteous attitude. Jesus was very clear about sacrificing the spirit of love for the sake of tradition.
“Keep Christ in Christmas.” Yep, that was written for me.