Friday, December 11, 2015

A Time for Christ: How Can I Set a New Standard this Christmas Season?

Christmas season is well upon us, and I find myself asking this question: How can I make this time of year about Christ? How can I make him the centerpiece of my Christmas season? 

That was how it was designed actually. Many Christians say that the Christmas season is pagan; all the rituals are pagan in origin. They are actually somewhat right. But they are also quite wrong. In the ancient Roman empire the first Christians were attempting to evangelize the pagan spiritualists, gnostics, syncretists, and other faiths within the empire. They did this quite effectively by “converting” pagan holidays into Christian holidays. It’s a highly advanced form of missionary evangelism centered on allowing the individuals to remain within their cultural context. The sadly ineffective counterpart to this cultural approach is mission station evangelism which tends to attract only a few who are already out-casted from their current culture. 

Christians in those days took many of the symbols used by pagans and rewrote them to have Christian meaning. That way these new Christians could still have a similar ritual while centering the event on Jesus Christ. This helped transform and renew culture in the Roman empire. The final result of the efforts of these first Christians in the ancient Roman empire? They went from a persecuted minority to spreading across the entire empire. They went from being burned at the stake by Nero to being sanctioned and encouraged by Constantine.

God teaches us through the Old Testament to always remember what he has done for us. He taught the ancient Israelite's to celebrate yearly feasts like: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths.  The festivals were important because they reminded Israel that God was God and always would be their God. 

He taught them write the words of the OT laws on places in their homes, and to discuss them continuously.

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
 -Joshua 1:8 NIV

Into the New Testament, the church forming in that time regularly met together to rejoice in the wonderful grace of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:42-47. Click here for more scriptures on gathering together.)

I need those same reminders today, in the Christmas season, to keep me centered on Jesus Christ. I need it next year too. My family needs those same reminders, every year. We need to be reminded. We need to retell the story of how God came into the world to redeem his people. 

That’s what Christmas is really about. It’s about recalling Jesus Christ and sharing the story that changed the world. 

I can certainly understand and sympathize with those who call to “keep Christ in Christmas.” I’ve noticed some Christians, bloggers and others on the internet seem determined to shame those who want to keep Christ in Christmas. I guess I don’t understand why. These are good people trying to engage in the culture and keep Christmas as a centerpiece of American life. There isn’t anything wrong with that. Maybe we younger bloggers and writers could learn from the example of those who take a stand for religious thought on the calendar of humanity. After all history itself, time itself centers around Jesus Christ: B.C and A.D

Cultural engagement is so very important to the cause of Christ. And just as important is political engagement. Once again many younger, I think perhaps more "millennial-minded" Christians are intent on shaming those who protest, take a stand, or engage in the political and cultural arenas. I don’t understand why in this case either. I think it goes to a basic ignorance regarding the history of religious thought in western civilization, and a basic ignorance of the looming threats to religious liberty in the west. They just want to evangelize, which is great, but they don’t seem to realize that the freedom to evangelize is found within the political sphere. And it does in fact face imminent attack: Click here to read a PDF account of over 1,600 attacks on religious liberty in the USA: Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility Toward Religion in America by Liberty Institute.

But Jesus wasn’t into politics. Wasn’t he? The political leaders of the time were the Pharisees, did he ever confront them? Yes he did.  Jesus didn't lead a revolution against the pharisees or the Roman authorities through strength of arms, but he did lead a spiritual revolution.  And it changed the world forever.

Yet even if that reasoning isn't sufficient to convince, here is a simple argument: Romans 13:1 says "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."  In that period of time this meant obeying the laws of the Roman empire and the will of the emperor (as long as it didn't interfere with responsibility to God.)  Today we live in a country considered a constitutional republic.  Part of being a citizen of a constitutional republic is the civic duty of electing leaders and participating in the government.  Therefore, to obey the teaching in Romans 13 to obey governing authorities we have a civic responsibility to participate in our participatory democracy. 
The church Jesus founded has constantly changed and transformed cultures and civilizations across history. We need to be aware of the history and story of our faith across time, and the threats to our freedom to speak about Christ today. Some of us younger bloggers, maybe we need to turn down the Christian rock, tone down the contemporary worship service, shut off the TV, and start doing some real research on religious liberty, Christian history, and cultural engagement. 

Don’t shoot other Christians when they say, “keep Christ in Christmas.” They are fighting against a secularization taking place in our culture. If you can’t see it, it’s because you were born into it friend. I couldn’t see it at first either. I had to learn and see it. 

I had to read books like How Should we then Live? by Francis Schaeffer (and the companion DVD) and the Sky is Not Falling by Charles Colson. I had to watch documentaries like: Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed. I had to view the Truth Project series by Focus on the Family. I had to go to websites like the ACLJ, Liberty Institute, and Alliance defending Freedom and read their articles on religious liberty. I had to dig into things.  I would encourage all Christians to do the same.  We need to be educated on these issues.

We followers of Jesus need to constantly remind ourselves of the path behind us, our current road, and the way ahead. In so doing we can contend with key issues like gay marriage, abortion, religious liberty, naturalism, scientism, post-modernism, and many other issues.  We remain in Christ, in the Christian worldview more thoroughly when we discover the contending worldviews. We remain in the moment, relevant and able to speak meaningfully on key issues.  Including issues within the realm of Christmas, like the Christian message, how it inter-relates to government, culture, and business.  And it's tough.  Many want to remove all mention of religious thought from seemingly every aspect of our lives, until the only place we can practice our faith is in the chapel an hour a week.  They want forced equality in every area, including religion.

That would be reasonable if Christianity were just a myth, but it's true.  Since it's true, it ought to be at the center of American life.  Not forced on anyone, but when a majority hold to the Christian faith, we ought to allow it's inclusion in all aspects of life, not just in the chapel.  If people get offended, fair enough, a lot of things offend me too!  I'm offended by the depravity on the television everyday.  I'm offended by Miley Cyrus twerking on a guy wearing a black piece of plastic strapped to his crotch.  The culture looks at that and thinks "no problem, shes just expressing herself" but when they see a Christian praying at his workplace they go crazy, and they're mad and offended.  That's just ridiculous if you ask me.

This world is hard to understand.  Yet here we are, in the Christmas season.  Christmas, well, Christmas... It’s a tough thing to understand. Somehow the message of Christ has been lost or at least de-emphasized. It’s become more about giving gifts to one another, the bright tree, the lights on the houses, eating lavish meals, and buying more and more stuff. That’s how it always was in my family. There was really little to no mention of Christ. My grandpa would give a one liner before the meal.  We'd smile at his old traditions. My Grandma on the other side of the family would usually mention something quick.  We'd wait patiently for her to finish, somewhat annoyed, then move on.  That was about it. 
Today being a born again Christian I look at those family routines and I wonder to myself, how can I set a different precedent in my family? I’m sure one day I’ll be married, with children; How can I establish a tradition in my family that places Christ at the forefront?

I saw a tree on Facebook being shared, going viral, a tree shaped like a cross with lights on it. On the wall next to it were Christian images like the cross. It was beautiful. I thought, now that’s a wonderful way to keep Christ at the center. Me and my family, we could kneel down together on Christmas morning and pray to the Lord. We could sing songs together, praising the Lord. My wife and I could share a short message, a devotional of the story of how Jesus came into the world. We could then give gifts to one another, preempting the gift giving with an indication that Jesus gave us the ultimate gift of eternal life. 

“We give gifts to one another because he taught us to love another and serve one another.” 

Jesus said,“love one another, as I have loved you so you must love one another.” 

We could then eat a meal, praying before the meal and knowing that God is the provider of all our needs. Then we could watch cheesy Christian Christmas movies. 

I imagine that’s how Christmas was 100 years ago in the United States. It was a truly Christian nation.  Every aspect of life was centered of the Bible.  And that worked very well.  The Bible was taught in school.  Prayer was in school.  And it worked really well.  It produced the greatest generation.  But try learning that in public school today!  I had to dig for the facts regarding Christianity's centrality to the USA.  It was like religious facts were specifically excluded from histories and accounts, or at least minimized.  I had to do serious independent study to learn these things.  The famed evangelical leader Albert Mohler referred to it in "The Conviction to Lead" as an intentional subversion.  And he said he sees his job as subverting the subversion.  I wonder, has Christmas been subverted?  If so, how can I subvert the subversion?

When I was growing up I thought Christmas was all about Santa Claus!  They taught us this bogus story that Christmas was about a heavy set bearded guy in red, from Germany, that gave gifts to people down their chimneys. They also said that somehow this story was repeated in cultures all over the world. And they would teach us the names of Satan Claws, I mean Santa Claus in various languages. How’s that for a half-baked syncretist distortion of the meaning of Christmas? 

Christmas is about Jesus. But we see this spiritual battle in our world manifested by the changing meanings of Christmas, Easter, and other holidays from days of reverence to days of self indulgence and sin. It’s amazing to witness. 

The Christmas season is about Jesus. But we have to fight to keep that meaning within it. Other meanings, produced by the spiritual battles in the high places attempt to shift that meaning to something else entirely. Same thing with consumerism, it pushes that process along because selfishness means profits for big business. But it’s all about Jesus. In fact everyday is about Jesus. But we form certain times of the year to center our lives on the history within the Bible.  We center our calendar year around the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I want you to think about this carefully: How can you set a new standard within your family this Christmas season, to keep Christ at the center? It won’t always be an easy thing. We don’t like change. Our families may even mock us for our beliefs. But hopefully we can find a way to make Christmas about Christ. That was the original intent. If your heartset on not participating at all, because you believe Christmas is pagan in origin, fair enough, but perhaps you could find times of the year to remind you and your family of the wonderful gift of eternal life from Christ Jesus our Lord. 

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