Christmas and the Incarnation

Christmas has most definitely been hijacked.  We hear that a lot every year about this time.  And with that declaration we begin to hear how Christians are ‘fighting back.’  We hear of boycotts and extra emphasis on saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone that dares to utter the words “Happy Holidays” first.  We hear about court battles over songs in school Christmas programs and nativity displays on government property.  It seems like with every passing year some other seemingly innocent form of religious liberty is trampled upon and the blogs and facebook go crazy!

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about this hijacking and wanted to just get some thoughts down.  My response to this tired and overplayed drama between the scrooges and the ‘religious right’ can be summed up in two such thoughts.

First, we as believers have simply made the hijacking of Christmas very easy for those who prefer a secular form of winter holiday.  Christians began secularizing the holiday long before its opponents even began the onslaught that we see today.  No, this is NOT a rant on the evils of Santa or Christmas Trees!  It’s much more about a Christian subculture that routinely accumulates massive debt in showering each other with gifts while opportunities to give toward entities such as Lottie Moon routinely experience a widening shortfall to pursue its mission.  And that is just one example, as I will explain in a moment.  Simply put, gift-giving has long since replaced Jesus as the source of ‘joy’ at Christmas time.  The incredible graced displayed in the coming of Jesus as the rescuer of humanity from sin has been replaced with the selfishness that stems from the incredibly ignorant thought that we are deserving of belonging on the ‘nice’ list.

If at all, Jesus and his coming have become peripheral items at best.  We find more joy in giving and receiving presents than we do in the greatest gift ever given or even in the pursuit of proclaiming the gospel to the world so that all nations might experience that same joy.  What we fail to realize is that with this trade, believers have fed the very machine that seeks to strip Christmas of everything Christ.  We have allowed Christmas to become mired with entitlement and selfishness and we wonder how we have gotten to present state of our world.  So we fight.  We fight like those who have had our rights infringed and our feelings hurt.  We fight out of ignorance, not comprehending the fact that we have done our fair share of hijacking.

That brings me to my second thought.  I do recognize that Christmas has been hijacked.  I do not believe that believers should be content with letting it happen.  I just take exception with how Christians chose to fight back.  Instead of lawyering up, using sarcasm to correct people’s language and greetings, or just placing more gaudy decorations in people’s faces with the idea of “what are you gonna do about it!?”, we need to return to a correct understanding of incarnation.

The incarnation is Christmas.  One of my favorite lines in all of Scripture comes from John as he announces in the prologue of his Gospel that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Incarnation means that Jesus, who is fully God, became a man.  That is mind-boggling when we think about the transcendence of God!  He is completely outside his creation, yet he somehow stepped into creation, taking on flesh and becoming 100% human while remaining 100% God.  This was not a humanitarian aid mission or a love campaign for Jesus; instead he came to be our rescuer.  Because we all fall desperately short of God’s standard of perfection and have failed to keep God’s holy law, Jesus’ coming fulfills a couple things for us.  He lived the perfect life that we have failed to live…for us.  This starts in the understanding of his virgin birth.  He was not born into sin as you and I were, and he lived his 33-year life without ever once falling short of perfection in his morality.  He then willingly, obediently, and sufficiently walked to the cross where God’s wrath for our sins was poured out on him…for us.  In that way he became our substitute and our atonement.  Because he stood in our place and paid our penalty for sin, we can now be reconciled to God and no longer bear the weight of his wrath upon us.  He died on the cross and then rose from the grave 3 days later sealing righteousness and justification…for us.  He now sits at the right hand of the Father, victorious over sin and death, and making intercession…for us.  And now for those who respond to what he has done in faith by repenting of their sins and placing exclusive trust in him as Lord and Savior, the reality of forgiveness and eternal life through righteousness in Christ provides hope and joy as we anticipate his coming again to restore all things with a new heavens and earth.

In order to fight this hijacking of Christmas, we too need to embrace what it means to be incarnational!  This should be the time of the year where believers make incredible efforts through the power of the Spirit to be the hands and feet of Christ.  Instead of going broke purchasing gifts for people who already have everything they could ever need, we should be sacrificially giving to meet the real needs of the “least of these.”  Our joy should be found squarely in the reality that “God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ [came and] died for us” (Romans 5:8)!  And this joy should should compel us not toward selfish entitlement and stress, but to humble recognition of grace and to urgent and intentional evangelism.  The world should take notice of the love, grace and mercy through those that follow Jesus as they mirror him to the world leading up to every December 25th.  The world should take notice that while it goes into debt and falls into selfishness, the church somehow has the courage and faith to sacrificially provide incredible means for the mission of the Great Commission.  “This Jesus must really mean something and be worth so much to them,” they should exclaim.  Hungry mouths should be fed, brokenness ministered to, orphans adopted, the neglected shown love, etc…to the point that no one in their right mind would ever even consider removing Christ from Christmas!

At the present time, what really would change at all?  That’s my point.  The way we currently celebrate Christmas would largely continue unchanged if Christ were removed altogether.  That’s sad.  But what if that all changed?  What if the church began to be incarnational to its local community?  What if believers truly sought after the joy that can only be found in the rescue mission this holy baby came to complete?  The truth is, we as believers can still offer a nice Christmas filled with giving gifts and having fun with classical traditions and still become more incarnational.  I’m definitely not advocating doing away with everything ‘secular’.  But even in the gift-giving I want my kids to learn grace.  Even in the celebration I want to teach them that true joy only comes in a right relationship with God through Christ.  As is the case in every area of life, Jesus is the focus and hero.  This should definitely be the case at Christmas!

Let’s fight the hijacking of Christmas by restoring its meaning in our own lives instead of trying to make non-believers act like they love Jesus.  It must start in our own lives.  Let’s stop being so politically minded and quick to get our feelings hurt by people who simply do not have any reason to celebrate Jesus during this season.  Let’s show them instead why they need Him.  Let’s make Jesus so evident to our world during this season that even non-believers would think it to be insane to remove him.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

I Married my bride, Erin, in 2003. We have 3 children: Emma, Elijah, and Lydia. I have served full-time on staff at Westwood Baptist Church, in Roxboro, NC, since summer of 2006 as Pastor of Students & Discipleship. I am currently enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, pursuing my Doctorate of Education.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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