Response to Christmas
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
23rd November 2007
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Christians respond to Christmas in very different ways.
For some of us it is a great season to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour. The seemingly traditional ways of celebrating are all part of the pleasure of the season. We enjoy the cards and candles, the mince pies and Christmas cake, the Christmas trees, lights and tinsel. It is all good clean honest fun.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Christians who feel acutely that Christmas is a blasphemous distortion of the message of the Gospel. We feel that the Lord Jesus is not honoured by the confusion of mythology with fact. Father Christmas is with his ridiculous clothes, stupid lies and false religious morality, a false god and idol who stands in the place of Christ. It is really the deceit of the devil.
And for most of us there is some confusion between these two extremes. We do not like the commercialisation of Christmas (not even the non-Christians like the commercialisation of Christmas). We do not feel comfortable with Christ being left out of Christmas. The generic Seasons Greetings or the dreadful word Xmas irritates our Christian sensitivities. But on the other hand the name of Christ is seen everywhere, and people sing great hymns like “Hark! The Herald Angels sing”, and so many people come to church who do not normally attend.
The rampant materialism of Christmas irritates everybody except the business community. They keep very quiet about how this is destroying Christmas time. Their concern is to keep business booming, profits growing and the economy buoyant.
But the community rushes around complaining about materialism while steadily stocking up their homes with food and presents. Little wonder that for the two months before Christmas the shops are decorated with Christmas glitter and the muzak is playing the endless round of carols. There should be some “sound abuse” award for shop assistants having to endure the same music for more than a week.
It is easy for Christians to join in the same criticisms of materialism and the same materialistic rituals as the community around us.
But this commercialisation of Christmas is not all bad. It has got the good side effect of making Christmas essential for the community as a whole. It does mean that the shopkeepers will not allow Christmas to fall off the calendar. It means that civic authorities will have parades, decorate trees with bright lights and sponsor community carol singing. It makes it easier to promote Christianity into the community at least at this one time of the year.
The community as a whole is focussed on a nostalgia of the season of good cheer. It is a time when they feel positive about Christianity and its message even if they have misunderstood it completely. It is a time when people are trying to be more open to other people's invitations and offers of friendship.
Thus Christmas is the easiest time of the year to invite people to church. Church at Christmas time may not get them very far in hearing the gospel—but at least for many it can be a start. The pleasure of the church experience—the fact that it exceeded expectations—the sense of meaningfulness that it contained, are all important in helping them to take a second step. The follow up invitations are really important and hopefully easier as a result of their Christmas visit.
Whether we love Christmas or hate Christmas let us make sure we use Christmas to connect with the community around us in order to commend the true and living Christ to a lost world.