Contemporary Challenges to Christmas

Title: Contemporary Challenges to Christmas
Text: Matthew 1:21
Time: November 17th, 2014

 
There’s a new movie out called “Saving Christmas” put out by Christian actor and TV personality Kirk Cameron. I haven’t seen it yet but it’s one of those movies I have on my “to see’ list this year. It deals with the whole topic of how Christmas has been hi-jacked by secular culture and the message of Christ has all but been extinguished in popular culture. I can’t go into much more about the movie because, like I said, I’ve not seen it. But the topic of Christmas and its relation to culture has been a growing concern for many Christians for at least a few decades now here in the United States. Just in my short lifetime I’ve seen how the secular forces of society have slowly but surely taken more and more away from the spiritual aspects of Christmas. Today, we’ll be looking at different aspects of the diminishment of the true spiritual meaning of Christmas and what forces are involved in stealing away the biblical understanding of this most important holiday. But before I talk about how the true meaning of Christmas is being hi-jacked by hostile secular forces, let me first quickly summarize what is the true meaning of Christmas. Matthew 1:21 sums it up quite nicely, “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you (Joseph) are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” These are the words spoken by the angel of God during the first Christmas season back in the first century. The reason for the season is Jesus Christ. His birth began the way of salvation for all who believe the gospel. This is the essence of Christmas, and this is what is being lost in all the other things us moderns put in its place. Before our world found clever ways of hi-jacking the Christmas season it used to be that every December 25th was one big evangelistic sermon proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. But now it’s possible to go through the entire season without really encountering the true meaning of Christmas. Shall we allow this trend to continue? Will we simply let culture rob us of the reason for the season? No, we should definitely push back against the destructive forces of secularism. And a key beginning in doing so is understanding the chief challenges to Christmas today. I’d like to offer three main forces that are slowly but surely hi-jacking the true meaning of Christmas and turning the holiday into something far less. First, there is the force of commercialism that threatens to swallow everything in its massive presence. Second, there’s the sentimentalism of family, friends and the social aspects of the holiday. This isn’t bad in itself, but it’s a case of something good replacing the best. And third, there’s the secularizing force of the general “holiday season” that is attempting to relativize and water-down the distinctively Christian truths of Christmas into a general religious holiday. There are other threats to the real celebration of Christmas but these are the three main challenges as I see it. Let me explain further.

First, there is the force of commercialism that threatens to swallow everything in its massive presence. Matthew 1:21, “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you (Joseph) are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The true meaning of Christmas is so simple, yet so profound. The Savior Christ the Lord is born of the virgin Mary. Angles, shepherds, magi and others are involved in the whole scenario. And of course, faithful Joseph is there making sure the Lord’s will is done. The true meaning of Christian is wrapped up in this simple yet profound retelling of the biblical narratives found in Matthew and Luke. But today the simple Christmas story is being swallowed up in the materialistic, money-driven world of commercialism. For a growing number of people the Christmas season isn’t about remembering the birth of Jesus but rather the gathering of gifts and their distribution. It’s about shopping, finding the best deals, hitting all the right sales, finding bargains, and the giving and receiving of gifts. For many it’s the time of year they stock up on their material necessities, and also a lot of luxuries as well. More and more Christmas is an orgy of materialistic spending and acquisition. Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with gift giving and receiving gifts, if done in moderation. After all, didn’t the magi bring gifts that first Christmas? So there is some biblical precedent for gift giving, which then of course necessities gift buying, and so forth. But there is nothing in the Bible that justifies the kind of materialistic activity that the Christmas season has unleashed in the last few decades. To say we’ve gone overboard is an understatement. Now what we don’t often think about is that this whole commercialization of Christmas has been driven largely by the retail stores through advertisements and TV and radio ads. For twenty to thirty years we’ve been told by Sears, Kmart, Wal-Mart, and so forth that spending money and buying things and giving and receiving things is all part of Christmas. In fact, they’ve told us that it’s like the most important part of Christmas, that it’s essential, that we’ve all got to do it and do it big every year, no matter if it drives us deeper in debt or even into bankruptcy. It’s something that has grown over the years along with the rising standard of living, the rising economic tide, the availability of cheap products from overseas, and many other economic factors. Today, the Christmas season, the month of December, is the biggest economic month of the year as far as buying and selling goes. All of this activity robs Christmas of its true spiritual meaning. We need to be very careful and exercise self-control and discipline in our spending habits during Christmas to avoid falling into this commercial trap.

Second, there’s the sentimentalism of family, friends and the social aspects of the holiday. Matthew 1:21, “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you (Joseph) are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The true meaning of Christmas is Jesus is born into the world to begin the start of the plan of salvation that will eventually lead to the cross and his atoning death for our sins. Whosoever believes in him shall be saved. That’s the meaning of the prophecy given by the angel who said, “because he will save his people from their sins.” Now even though most people who have gone to church for any length of time understand this intellectually, it’s easy to forget about it during the Christmas season today because hardly anything in secular society today reinforces or reminds us of it. I do have to say I still hear Christian Christmas hymns playing in the malls and stores during the holiday. In these old hymns the true meaning of Christmas still comes through, but few and few people are hearing that message in the background today. Why? Because of the other social forces that are taking center stage. I’ve already talked about the growing economic challenge to the true meaning of Christmas, but there’s a second challenge that attempts to steal away the spiritual values of the holiday and that is social sentimentality. In other words, gathering with family and friends around the holiday season. Now there’s nothing wrong with socializing during the Christmas season, in fact, it’s a pretty good and positive thing to do that brings people together and puts us in good cheer. It’s normally hard to get family and friends together in our busy secular world today, so any opportunity to bring people together is good. But the problem is that if Christmas becomes merely a family or friends time it loses its meaning. If you ask a person on the street what Christmas means to him or her, and they say, “Christmas to me means family and friends near” that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. It’s not that family and friends are bad; they aren’t. It’s just that family and friends aren’t what Christmas, the true meaning of Christmas, is about. The reason for the season is Jesus, not Grandma and Grandpa, Mother and Father, Sister or Brother, not even friends and social gatherings. Yes, these gatherings add to the fun of the season, but if they become the primary reason for the season, then they hi-jack the true spiritual meaning of Christmas. We face a real challenge in keeping the main thing the main thing at Christmas time. Let’s be conscious of the fact that although good, gathering socially during the holiday season isn’t the most important aspect of Christmas. The birth of Jesus the Savior is most importance. Let’s not lose the true priority in the midst of lesser things.

Third, there’s the secularizing force of the move to promote a general “holiday season.” Matthew 1:21, “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you (Joseph) are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” A true celebration of Christmas involves attending activities that focus on the true meaning of the season Jesus Christ. Singing old Christmas hymns is a great way to celebrate the true spiritual meaning of Christmas. Participating in or attending a Nativity play or presentation is also another way of remembering and celebrating true Christmas. And of course, retelling the Christmas story (not the Night Before Christmas), through the preached word, through rereading the Bible accounts in Matthew and Luke, and so forth. Decorating with true Christian Christmas decorations helps us remember the true Christmas celebration – not that every piece of Christmas decoration must reflect the strict biblical Nativity truth, because there could be other things that aren’t harmful or bad that could be used in decorating as well. Attending Christmas Eve Candle-Light services is also a great way to celebrate Christmas. Watching Christmas movies that remind us of Jesus is another way. In other words, anything that directs our thoughts and emotions towards God and the gift of salvation found in Jesus is a proper celebration of Christmas. We need to make a conscious effort to stay on true spiritual course because today there is a trend towards relativizing Christmas as a general holiday and by throwing in any and every possible celebration such as Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and so forth. Our secular society today is so politically correct that it opposes the idea of celebrating a distinctively Christian holiday so it invites any and every belief to put something in the season, and if there’s nothing to put in, invent something – as in the case of Kwanzaa. This definitely waters-down the true meaning of the season. Even Jerry Seinfeld came up with a new invention for the Christmas holiday season, Festivus – a holiday for the rest of us, meaning, a holiday for anybody who isn’t Christian or who doesn’t want to celebrate true Christmas. Frank: (Referring to the pole) It’s made from aluminum. Very high strength-to-weight ratio. Kruger: I find your belief system fascinating. Frank Costanza: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way. Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll? Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born … a Festivus for the rest of us! Cosmo Kramer: That must’ve been some kind of doll. Frank Costanza: She was. Kramer: Is there a tree? Frank: No. Instead, there’s a pole. Requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting. Frank Costanza: Welcome, newcomers. The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!” That’s a funny illustration of my point. Christmas, the true meaning, is getting lost amidst a baggage of religious and psuedo-spiritual, psuedo-religious celebrations. The PC police don’t want any one religion being preeminent, so they make sure the true Christian truths are not emphasized in public. We see this especially in the public schools where school children aren’t allowed to sing any songs that reflect the true meaning of Christmas. Only neutral songs are allowed.

All of these secular trends are taking away from the distinctively Christian celebration of Christmas. For many unbelievers and even for many brainwashed people who call themselves Christians, to them this is a good thing. But for us true believers it’s bad because it confuses people about what Christmas is really all about. Above all, Christians need to stay focused on the reason for the season Jesus Christ and not be distracted by all the other things swirling about during the Christmas holiday season. We need to be careful not to take on too many new traditions during Christmas time. For example, over the last few decades the habit of watching NFL football has become pretty much a given in many or even most households. Christmas day is spent watching sports on TV. Now if you stop and think about it, what does football have to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? Absolutely nothing. What’s so special about football that we must interrupt the celebration of the birth of Jesus to devote ourselves to hours in front of TV on this most special day? Nothing. Now people are free to do as they please during their time off work, and many of us like to watch sports on TV, and there’s nothing wrong with that normally, but why take away from Christmas watching a football game? It just doesn’t fit. There’s no reason for it other than it’s easy to do and doesn’t take any energy or thought to do it. But this simple thing actually takes away from celebrating Christmas by robbing it of our attention and giving our attention to a lesser thing. That’s just one example, and there are many others. Now, they’re trying to lour women into shopping on Christmas by offering super sales Christmas Day! Don’t fall for that. Don’t be distracted by the retail stores. Churches can get distracted too by offering all the same kinds of secular Christmas themes as secular culture offers, thinking that they are being relevant by doing so. But why can’t Christians be Christians and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and let the secular world carry on with its secular themes? Why do we have to encourage the watering-down of Christmas in our churches? We need to be emphasizing all the more the distinct spiritual themes of the real Christmas holiday message. Secular society doesn’t need to hear about Frosty the Snowman in church, or Santa Clause and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in church. They need to hear a message of the baby Jesus and the angels proclaiming the good news of salvation born in the manger of Bethlehem. We have something better than general holiday fare; we have a Savior to proclaim. Let’s proclaim him especially during Christmas season.

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