Celebrating Christmas Among The Heathen

b y R.C. Sproul Jr.
Turnabout is fair play. The pagan Roman festivals, while making a minor comeback, are not on the forefront of anyone’s social calendar these days. But seeing a block full of events between the fourth Thursday in November, and the beginning of the New Year, many have decided to crash our parties. The advent season–that time when we pause to remember the need for and grace of the incarnation of our Lord–is indeed a time to celebrate. And nobody likes to feel left out. Worse still, nobody likes to leave anybody out. We have invited the world to our party, and told them they don’t need Jesus to get in.

Now, crammed into that little window of time we now call the “holiday season” we have not only our own celebrations, but Hanukah, Kwanzaa and the vague holiday season of the poor, secular, “meta-narrative challenged.” First we shared Saint Nicholas with them, transforming a dedicated, pious monk into an overweight jolly old elf. Now we share the whole season with them. There then, on the lawn in front of town hall, we have, if we’re lucky, a manger scene, and right beside it, a menorah, some sort of Kwanzaa thing, whatever that might be, and a bevy of North Pole citizens in mid-frolic. The malls, lest they anger their own seasonal god, Money, by offending any potential customers, celebrate in much the same way. It is not the use of the Greek X, as in X-mas, nor crass commercialism that is killing Christmas (though it of course doesn’t help any) as much as it is multiculturalism. If no one’s reason to celebrate is better than anyone else’s, then there can be no real reason to celebrate.
We need to understand what we are doing before we discover why we are doing it wrong. Every Lord’s Day we at Saint Peter Presbyterian Church sing together or recite a creed, either the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the first question from the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Before we do this, however, each week I remind the congregation that we are not merely a few loose and odd Christians in one corner of Bristol, but that we are gathered together with all the Church around the world, and the Church triumphant, the souls of just men made perfect. I remind the congregation that what binds us together, what makes us one, is our common faith, our conviction that what we are about to sing or recite is life-giving truth upon which we depend.
Holidays are merely the melding together of remembrance liturgies, and celebrations. The thing we are remembering is the thing we are celebrating. We are rejoicing because Christ came and dwelt among us. In the world, they are merely celebrating that they are celebrating. It’s as hollow as a Federal Reserve note.
We should not expect the world to celebrate with us. For those outside Christ, the coming of Christ, both the first time and the last, is a day of darkness, not light. That he came to take our judgment does not change the truth that he always comes in judgment. But they can’t stand to see us having a good time. As they always do, they take away the offense of the cross and then join us in our reverie. But there is nothing to celebrate without the cross. Without the cross they are uninvited guests who should be shown the door. We do not celebrate each year the birthday of a great moral teacher. We do not celebrate the birth of our example. We celebrate that God the Son took on flesh, and dwelt with us. There is no way to make that message palatable to Jews, or Muslims, nor those affirming that we emerged from the sludge by accident.
That they are celebrating, however, does not mean that we should not. That they are whistling in the dark doesn’t mean that we can’t walk on the sunshine. It is our day, our celebration. When someone crashes your party you don’t decide to never have another party. You just celebrate it more carefully. Let them have their empty gestures, the interest on the capitol they borrowed. Do not mimic them by celebrating the holiday season, by joining in an amorphous time of good will. Do not practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. Without the birth of the Savior, they have neither kindness nor beauty and are in deliberate denial of the grace of God.
The answer is not to slow down the spending (though that might be wise), or boycott any store caught with Christmas decorations before some arbitrary date. The answer is to drown out the cacophony of the phonies, to use this season as a time to remember. Remember your sins, which created enmity with God. And then remember that, while we were yet sinners, Christ was born of a virgin for us, leaving behind his glory. While we were yet sinners, Christ lived a perfect life for us in absolute subjection to the law of his Father. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we were yet sinners Christ ascended to his throne for us, to intercede for us, to exercise dominion for and through us, and that Emmanuel, God with us, will come again.
That is worth celebrating, no matter what the heathen are doing.

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