In the past three weeks I’ve written blog posts on Advent including “The Three Relationships of Peace” and “Gratitude and Wonder”; and on the background of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”; and on “Celebrating Hanukkah,” so it seems appropriate that I finish up this series of Yuletide blog posts with the actual reason behind the season–the birth of Jesus Christ–which Christians worldwide will celebrate on December 25th. The following account of the birth of Jesus Christ is taken from Luke 2:1-40 (ESV):
The Birth of Jesus Christ
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Jesus Presented at the Temple
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Return to Nazareth
And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
The true meaning of Christmas is love. John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.
The real Christmas story is the story of God’s becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshiping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.
The true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). (Quote source here.)
Granted, this is the Christian story of Christmas–it’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in recent years at least from a media perspective there has been a downplaying of the Christian story of Christmas. Some have called it “The War on Christmas.” One year ago on December 19, 2016 an article was published in The New York Times that tackled the issue. It is titled, “How the War on Christmas Controversy Got Started,” by Liam Stack, who covers breaking news and social and political issues for the New York Times express desk. He is also an Arabic speaker, and he worked for seven years as a Middle East correspondent covering authoritarianism and revolution in the Arab world. Stack writes:
It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s time for the War on Christmas.
What is that, you may ask? The short answer: a sometimes histrionic yuletide debate over whether the United States is a country that respects Christianity.
For the longer answer, keep reading.
The idea of a “War on Christmas” has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like “Happy Holidays” as (liberal) insults to Christianity.
For over a decade, these debates have taken place mainly on conservative talk radio and cable programs. But this year they also burst onto a much grander stage: the presidential election.
At a rally in Wisconsin last week, Donald J. Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees and repeated a campaign-trail staple.
“When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” he said. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”
Christmas is a federal holiday celebrated widely by the country’s Christian majority. So where did the idea that it is threatened come from?
What is the “War on Christmas”?
The most organized attack on Christmas came from the Puritans, who banned celebrations of the holiday in the 17th century because it did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible.
Fast forward 400 years, and the idea of a plot against Christmas gained wide publicity when Fox News promoted a 2005 book by a radio host, John Gibson, that alleged liberal antagonism toward the holiday, according to Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Mr. Gibson said in an interview that he was “amazed” by the uproar his book caused.
He said it primarily focused on an issue that rarely happens anymore: educators and local officials banning nonreligious symbols like Santa Claus or Christmas trees out of a mistaken belief that displaying them violated the Constitution.
Mr. Gibson said the book had taken on a life of its own over the years — and that it had never dwelled on the political implications of “Happy Holidays.”
He attributed the firestorm to two things: The book’s take-no-prisoners title (“The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought”) and the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
“It wasn’t really me. I think it was more Bill, to tell you the truth,” he said. “When Bill made it an issue, it went mega”. . . .
Mr. O’Reilly returned to the War on Christmas this year [December 2016–see article at this link], but his tone has been triumphant.
“That culture war issue ignited and we won,” he said last Tuesday, later adding, “Donald Trump is on the case.”
Is this a real thing?
There is no evidence of an organized attack on Christmas in the United States.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the annual uproar is based on “stories that only sometimes even contain a grain of truth and often are completely false.” He has spent years pushing back against it.
“This politicizing of the whole issue is mind-boggling to me,” Mr. Lynn said, “and it has been for well over a decade.”
He added, “They see this as some kind of a politically correct effort, but I see it as reasonable to not use Christmas references as just an accommodation of the reality of America”. . . .
What does the “war” look like in practice?
Many conservative groups have rallied to defend Christmas, lobbying for decorations in public schools or town halls. One group, the American Family Association based in Tupelo, Miss., publishes a “Naughty and Nice” list every year to castigate companies it believes are “censoring ‘Christmas.’ ”
“There are secular forces in our country that hate Christmas because the word itself is a reminder of Jesus Christ,” the group said on its website. “They want to eradicate anything that reminds Americans of Christianity”. . . .
“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?
The greeting “Happy Holidays” has been in use as a Christmas greeting for more than 100 years. But it has grown in popularity in recent decades as people have tried to be inclusive and sensitive to those of other faiths and the nonreligious.
The controversy appears to have shifted opinion about the proper greeting. Mr. Cassino wrote in the Harvard Business Review this month that the number of people who said they preferred to hear “Happy Holidays” has decreased sharply in the last 10 years, from 41 percent to 25 percent. “Merry Christmas” remained popular. Indeed, President Obama, a Christian, has frequently uttered the phrase.
So perhaps there is hope for peace on earth, or at least cable television. (Quote source here.)
A more lengthy article with lots of links for those interested in the 2017 version of “The War on Christmas” is available on Bloomberg View, published on December 13, 2017, and titled, “To the Christmas Barricades, Candy Canes in Hand–The state of the War on Christmas: The movies are too sweet, but Silicon Valley is too judgmental,” by Stephen L. Carter, a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Yale University. Carter states in the second paragraph of his article (full article available at this link):
Is there a “war on Christmas”? Surely it’s a matter of perspective. A story last year in the New York Times [and yes, he is referencing the article posted above] discussed the history of the idea, but got it only partly right. The piece skipped from the banning of Christmas celebrations by 17th-century Puritans to the 2005 publication of talk-show host John Gibson’s polemic, “The War on Christmas.” That’s a lot of history omitted, and it’s history that matters. But I’ve tacked that subject in this space before; for now, I’ll simply recommend that those who want to learn the holiday’s true and somewhat surprising history should read “The Battle for Christmas,” by the excellent Stephen Nissenbaum. (Quote source and entire article is available at this link.)
GotQuestions.org gives us some advice on how Christians can respond to this “War on Christmas”:
Many people perceive a modern-day “war on Christmas” being waged in the public square. Those who believe in the reality of a war on Christmas see a concerted effort to eliminate the word “Christmas” from public discourse. Stories confirming a war on Christmas seem to be coming more frequently: a grade-school choir sings “We Wish You a Happy Holiday” instead of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for their “Winter Concert.” A library invites “holiday displays” from the community provided the displays have no religious connotation—the stable may have animals in it, but no people. And major shopping chains forbid their employees from wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas.” It is possible to do all one’s Christmas shopping and never see or hear the word “Christmas” in the stores.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” But if someone says “Happy Holidays” for the sole purpose of not saying “Merry Christmas,” then we are right to question what’s going on. Is there truly be a cultural “war on Christmas?” “Why is the word “Christmas” censored?” we wonder as we wander through the malls. Why do some public schools celebrate everything from Kwanzaa to Labafana the Christmas witch, and ban the Nativity, all in the name of “inclusion” and “tolerance”?
One reason put forward by those seeking to avoid the word “Christmas” is that it offends non-Christians. But, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 3 percent of adults in America say it bothers them when a store makes specific reference to Christmas. This fact gives the “war on Christmas” a more sinister twist. The exclusion of Christmas is less about sensitivity and more about censorship. Expunging all mention of Christmas from society is not really a way to “adapt” to a more diverse culture but a way to engineer a more secular culture.
Many times, the arguments against Christmas programs and displays are couched in political terms, but the bias against Christmas goes much deeper than that. The war on Christmas is primarily a spiritual battle, not a political one.
How should Christians respond to the war on Christmas and the ubiquitous use of “Happy Holidays” to the exclusion of “Merry Christmas”? Here are some suggestions:
1) Celebrate Christmas! War on Christmas or not, let the joy of the season show in your life. Teach your family the significance of Jesus’ birth and make the Christmas traditions meaningful in your home.
2) Wish others a Merry Christmas. When confronted with a “Happy Holidays,” get specific and wish the greeter a “Merry Christmas!” You may be surprised at how many respond in kind. Even if you are met with resistance, don’t let it dampen your cheer. In Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge wages a personal war on Christmas, and his nephew feels the brunt of his uncle’s attacks year after year, but it doesn’t stop him from wishing his humbug of an uncle a Merry Christmas and inviting Scrooge to Christmas dinner.
3) Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Christmas season is a wonderful opportunity to share Christ’s love and the gospel message. He is the reason for the season!
4) Pray for those in positions of power (1 Timothy 2:1–3). Pray for wisdom. Pray for revival so that Christmas, instead of being “offensive,” would be honored by all. May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas. (Quote source here.)
“May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas.” And that is very wise advice during this Christmas season . . . .
Glory to God in the highest . . .
And on earth peace . . .
Goodwill toward men . . . . (Luke 2:14, NKJV)
YouTube Video: “O Holy Night/Ave Maria” featuring Lexi Walker – The Piano Guys: