What Happened To Christmas?
by Rick Shrader
Now that it is January and Christmas is over until next year, I can risk sounding like Scrooge or maybe even the Grinch. I have to confess that I labored through the Christmas season moaning and groaning at Christmas store commercials, Christmas television movies (the new ones anyway), Christmas network specials, Christmas online ads, Christmas news, Christmas concerts, Christmas decorations, and even Christmas church specials. And when it was finally December 26, I asked myself in amazement, whatever happened to Christmas?
The one bright spot of the whole season was brought to us by a left-over, sorry-looking, crudely spoken but evidently born-again hippie named Phil Robertson. When America, the greatest country in the age of grace, was brought so morally low and bankrupt to the point of cowering to the shameful sin of our day, Robertson was interviewed by liberal hate-baiters at GQ magazine and old Phil said it plainly and truthfully: homosexuality is a sin and an unnatural perversion for any of God’s creatures. He even made an attempt at quoting 1 Cor. 6:9-10, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” What Phil didn’t have a chance to explain is why these verses so plainly show that no human being is born a homosexual. God does not exclude any person from His kingdom because of how they were born, but only for how they practice, which this list of sins makes abundantly clear.
However, I want to go back to my grinching. Doesn’t anyone any longer know what Christmas is all about? Is it really all this complicated? Sure, there has been a war on Christmas in this free country. Any public figure, politician, businessman, athlete, news pundit, talk show host, et al, is scared to death to mention anything concretely having to do with Christianity for fear of repercussion. Akin to this phobia is the fear of speaking morally, as Phil Robertson did. No doubt the bottom line is fear. You will be hurt in one way or another if you dare cross these lines in our society. If we continue to let Islam take over America as it has done in our motherland, England, the repercussion will indeed be physical. But for now the penalty for speaking plainly is loss of job or position, defamed character, name-calling, ridicule, and slander.
But I don’t think that even these fears are the problem with Christmas. The problem with Christmas is humanism. That’s right, that old liberal nemesis that used to be so bold as to have its own manifesto and creed, has now morphed into Christianity through the convenient season we call Christmas. In the public square, humanism has won the old battle over sin and redemption. We are no longer sinners. We no longer need a Savior to save us from anything but a bad attitude. All that stuff about a pre-existent Christ Child, a virgin birth, a natal star, etc., (and especially a sinless life, a substitutionary death, and a bodily resurrection) are not only old-fashioned but entirely unnecessary. The Grinch offers you three proofs.
Proof #1. I will start with the easiest and most obvious loss of the Christmas message as seen in television programs and made-for-television movies. I will call these Nick-flicks. The real person of the new-meaning Christmas is St. Nick. And before I lose all my cool on this re-made, historical, yet make-believe elf, let me confess my own sin of watching too much of all of this anyway. These “shows” offer the viewer predictable plots, typical characters, and annoying emotions which is all easily figured out in the first ten minutes. The only worthwhile lesson to be learned is the answer to the question, “why did I ever watch this?” The real meaning of Christmas, according to these sage productions, is the existence of Santa Claus.
The plot will fall somewhere in the realm of some poor slob who is mad at the world or tied up in his job and needs a real emotional adjustment. Then there is the typical Tiny-Tim character who has everything against him/her and is about to lose hope in the goodness of humanity, friendship, the joy of giving, or some-such humanistic attribute. You might add a picturesque setting like a fir tree farm or a mountain lodge, and then mix in a conflict between the fair but despondent maiden and the grumpy but handsome unbeliever. Now all you need for this story to be a Christmas story is the recovered belief in St. Nick so that the positive feelings of the season can be brought out of the infidel and he can show all kinds of human kindness and good works at the end. But this is all too easy. I only offer it as proof because of the ubiquitous nature of television in everyone’s life. If you must watch movies, never watch anything made later than, say, 1979, when John Wayne died.
Proof #2. The Fox News Christmas Special. I must also first confess that I am a Fox News junkie. In fact, if it weren’t for Fox News I’d have to settle for fix-ups, food, or pickers. Good Grief! I can’t stand reality shows and I’m about done with the antics of professional athletes (right after the Super Bowl and March Madness). So I know the good guys and the bad guys on Fox and which hours are worthwhile. We’re all glad when Fox News champions equal time for Christmas and answers the attacks on religion and morality.
Yet according to Fox News the real meaning of Christmas is patriotism, conservatism, morality, and the bravado it takes to say Merry Christmas on the air. I enjoy hearing carols sung but I must confess I am really tired of the interpretive style of singing that makes me watch the vocal cords of the singer (even a nice looking serviceman) to wonder how in the world he could fluctuate between all those notes in a single stanza. The wise men never traveled so far in such a short amount of time. But then the wise men and their Objective were never really the point. There were the stories of our war heroes for which I am a great sympathizer, the little children with presents, even Cardinal Dolan giving the evening devotional thought. Yet I don’t think the name “Jesus” was even heard. The real meaning of Christmas to a television station seemed to be the guts it took to put on a production with the name “Christmas” in it. I guess that’s a real victory in our PC culture, but it left me still searching for a message of salvation and hope.
Proof #3. The three wise men. I think that these men may all have been on the Fox News special but I can’t remember, I was so enthralled by it all. But in this season I have seen interviews from each of them. Let me say first of all, that I do not doubt the born again nature of these men (with the definite exception of the second). I also can sympathize with the difficult task of talking specific Biblical doctrine on the air on any program. (But I remember that old prophet Adrian Rogers scolding the young Bill Hybels after the latter schmoozed his way through a Presidential Prayer Breakfast without confronting a sinning president. “Perhaps thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this,” said the older preacher. So we cannot excuse the lack of clarity in a preacher at such a critical time as this Christmas).
From the west came Rick Warren. And what is he offering the waiting public at this needy time of year? A book on dieting. This may actually be a great benefit now that the time of Christmas partying is over, but I missed any straightforward message of incarnation and redemption from “America’s pastor.” From the Mid-West came Joel Osteen. And what is he offering us at this Christmas season? I can confidently say I have no idea except a lesson on how to smile or do your hair. Frankly, I have never heard this man give an explanation of the gospel. No Christmas message here. From the east came Andy Stanley, an unusual appearance for him (now that his father is lesser known to this generation). A born-again man I am sure, yet what was his new book about? How to use your money as a Christian. Good enough I suppose for a pastor to his people, but I was listening for the real meaning of Christmas and didn’t hear it from this preacher either.
The wiser man I usually appreciate when he is interviewed is Franklin Graham. He at least tries to interject the gospel. But he is busy with his gifts to the needy and no chance was given him for the gospel on the air either. So much for my last hope of hearing the real meaning of Christmas from the men who are supposed to be wise and speak God’s truth. Where have all of us been in this regard? I may have fared no better in a public setting either. Would you? Have we as God’s people lost our boldness when it comes to the message of the most important time in the world’s history? Maybe.
There is a final irony to my quest for the historical Christmas. I mean, the real meaning of Christmas. On the Sunday before Christmas day, half the nation was kept from coming to church due to the worst ice storm in years. Many of us had to stay home like pagans and search in vain for a message somewhere else. But maybe this is a good reminder of something good and precious at the Christmas season—the local church of Jesus Christ is still proclaiming the real meaning of Christmas. Outside of God’s born again people there is no hope of hearing that message.
The churches, having the Word of God in our hands and the Spirit of God in our hearts, rightfully proclaim our Savior’s birth. He is the divine Son of God Who existed from all eternity, Who took upon Himself humanity at the very conception of the virgin Mary, Who lived a sinless life satisfying all the law which none of us could ever do, Who then gave His life on the cross for the sins of the whole world and was resurrected by the power of God, Who will accept anyone who will willingly put his/her faith and trust in Him as Savior. There was no other hope for this sinful world. God loved us and gave His Son for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity. That is the meaning of Christmas.
Our local church resumed services on the Sunday after Christmas with hymn-singing, carols, and a nice presentation by our music people. It was simple and nice. Real. No false humanism. Just the truth of our Savior’s incarnation. Praise God for His unspeakable Gift!