First things first: Merry Christmas! Yes, it is Christmas day, and I’m blogging. Wow.  I’m pretty amazed at my commitment right now. But following on from the last post then, I hope you see where I’m coming from with this gesture. When you get right down to it, it’s a seasonal greeting. Much like saying, “happy Queen’s birthday!”, or something like . . . that. Except, no one actually says: “happy Queen’s birthday”. So, on second thought, a simple, “Happy Holidays” might work better to illustrate this point. Bottom line: by “Merry Christmas”, I’m wishing you a “happy holiday”. Oookay then, rough start. Moving on.

Essentially, I’m advocating that, as tolerated sojourners, we need to divide asunder those categories that have become horribly muddled over the last two millennia. The worst part is that this muddling has happened, and continues to happen, as a result of good intent; whenever well-meaning Christians of any age, start trying to redeem things. That’s definitely the first problem. We should not be redeeming things. Ever. That is always Jesus’ job.

The second problem is that our efforts to merge sacred and secular end up in religious syncretism. The whole thing kind of reminds me of a somewhat (but not actually) related issue: the ancient heresy of Eutychianism. If you happen to be familiar with this heresy, you’ll remember the way that, in trying to figure out how Jesus’ divine and human natures worked together, Eutychius ended up throwing it all into one big bucket. I.e., He ended up with a version of Christ that was neither God nor man, and was therefore no good to anyone. Not good. So much for the ‘blend’ method. In fact, the blend method never works, especially when Christology is in view. Thus the somewhat forced overlap with this topic: When it comes to the great-big-Christendom-Christmas-hand-me-down, Christology is definitely in view, and the ‘blend’ problem once again rears its ugly head.

So, even today then, here we are: trying to keep things from blending. We’re trying to keep Jingle Bells separate from Silent Night. Good, rightly so. To state it more provocatively, we’re trying to keep Christ out of Christmas. Gulp. Are we even allowed to say that? Yes we are, but keep reading.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me, untangling the cultural-theological spaghetti of Christmas is not as easy as we might have hoped. Indeed, a whole host of questions come to mind. Firstly, in thinking about Christ-mass (viz., going to the mass on the 25th of December for the purposes of celebrating the birth of Christ; and yup. . . that is where the name comes from), perhaps the first question is this: Am I meant to go to church today?

Well, I’ll start by giving you a fair warning here. I’m a confessionally reformed kind of guy. So, maybe that’s a clue as to how I might approach this. “What saith the Scriptures” is always going to be the all important settler, in any topic under discussion. And maybe you picked that up in the last post, when I pretty much begged you (on the basis of the regulative principle) to stop merging the Santa-story with the nativity. But then, even beyond getting those Santa-hat’s off of the worship leaders, and beyond getting those blasted Christmas trees out of the church sanctuary, I would strongly advocate teaching your kids that when it comes to celebrating the birth of Christ, Christ himself has prescribed the exact means through which to do this: Church; Word; Sacrament; Lord’s day. Certainly not the 25th of December mass, any protestant rendition of it . . . or any other homestay version for that matter.

Let me offer you a paragraph from the Spurge himself, a brother who felt my pain on this:

“We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons.Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition,because not of divine authority.” –Charles Spurgeon [1]

I don’t think I could say it any better than that. So, I’ll just go ahead and put the point down right there. But what does this actually mean for those who really want to honour the Lord and make best use of the current seasonal inclination to think upon Christ? Well, as I bridge into this and some of the other questions like it, here’s one more quote, again from Spurgeon:

We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the 25th of December….Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give thanks to God for the gift of His dear Son.”[2] 

Two things there;

1) We really don’t know the day of Christ’s birth. And the closest reckonings leave us in and around the month of Sep, during the feast of Tabernacles. Moreover, there is an incredible scriptural resonance with this conclusion, bearing in mind that John begins his gospel by reporting that he ‘tabernacled’ in our midst.

2) “regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give thanks to God for the gift of His dear Son.” And this is absolutely key: For a Christian, the only thing wrong with doing this, is if we are only doing it once a year. Perish the thought! Every day and hour we are rejoicing in the gift of the Saviour. And the gift(!), not merely the birth. Jesus is the Saviour because of his birth, death, resurrection and second coming. This, together, is the gift. This is the gospel!

When we worship as a church in response to this gospel, we do it in the scripturally prescribed manner. But of course, we are also to worship God (in response to the gospel) in ways that go beyond corporate worship. Certainly, we give thanks for the gospel in our own homes, as individual families of the church (once again, ideally these times of family devotion are going to be more than just once a year!). And then obviously, we are also to give thanks during our personal times of prayer. In fact there is something severely wrong with our personal time, if this is not the case. And so, when we look at the 25th of Dec from this perspective (and surely this is how we should look at it), any routines and rhythms of devotion on this day are entirely appropriate. Evangelism even? You betcha. Why the heck not. However, this is so, not because it’s Christmas, but rather because it’s (drum roll please) Christianity!

So, by all means then, use the season’s inclination as a time to either evangelize; or to delve deep into the rich theology of Christ’s incarnation; or both! As tolerated sojourners, we know the sacred and we pursue it with all of our hearts. Together with this, we know the secular, and the liberties that we are allowed along the way. We don’t ever conflate these, just as surely as there is an all important difference between the journey and the destination. But finally then, we also know the limits; and we adamantly refuse to partake in the profane. So . . . on this day, the day of December the 25th, we–the tolerated sojourners–stand together: We’re taking the Christ out of Christmas; and we’re putting that sacred name back where it should be.

Notes;

  1. Sermon on Dec. 24, 1871
  2. Ibid.

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