Taking Christ out of Christmas: Is it really “them” or is it you?

Photo by Jameel Hassan on Pexels.com

Christmas is many things to many people. It could be the most wonderful time of the year. It could be hard, full of travel, with a lack of family members who have passed. It could be somewhere in the middle. For pretty much all people, though, it is a big day on the calendar. For Christians living in America, it is a huge deal. Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who came as a man to die for all sins– what a most extraordinary event. With Christmas, though, comes the inevitable tension between Christians and places like Target or Walmart who sometimes do and sometimes don’t use the phrase “Merry Christmas” (side note: as far as I can tell, the idea that they refuse to say Merry Christmas at Walmart is not actually true, but we will discuss why this doesn’t matter at all in a little bit). If I have heard it once, I have heard it at least twice, and more than likely, a lot more than twice: they are taking the Christ out of Christmas!

Now, let’s do our due diligence here, and let’s interact with this topic for a bit. First off, let’s establish who “they” is. Second, let’s look at what is “in Christmas” anyway, alongside Christ. And lastly, let’s figure out if Christ can be taken out of Christmas literally at all, in any sense of the phrase.

Who is “they?”

I work at a church full-time, and I have been in church for a really long time. I love the local church. It is spectacular, and the best way to live our lives. God gave us one another as a gift to do life with and share the Gospel, and for that, I am immensely grateful. One of the challenging things about any local church (or really any group of people) is that criticism happens really easily. This is especially true during the Christmas holiday.

Kelly Sobnosky wrote a brief op-ed a few years ago about the phenomenon of Christians having to play the tension between “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” Her key contention, I think, is a good one: Christians choosing to say Merry Christmas presents within itself a true Gospel opportunity. I completely agree. But the starting point for this contention, which Sobnosky and many others use as a bit of a straw man, is that people actually care that anyone says “Merry Christmas” in the first place. I live in the South. Christmas is a ubiquitous part of our culture, and I have never in my life been in a situation where “Merry Christmas” was a big deal. Anecdotes are not evidence, however, and I get this. Let’s just be honest with ourselves, though. If “they” are trying to keep us from saying “Merry Christmas,” or if “they” are taking Christ out of Christmas, the only question we need to answer is this: who is “they?” And let’s be honest with ourselves twice– they is nobody.

Target and Walmart (and many others, even the public school system) choosing to say “Happy Holidays” is not a direct attack on anyone for using “Merry Christmas.” No one is taking Christ out of Christmas because “they” who are theoretically doing it don’t exist. If this were a fascist country who controls information or if we were the characters in Orwell’s 1984, then the argument would hold some water. But the basis of this argument is a straw man. There is no “they” taking Christ out of Christmas– just a few CEOs trying not to offend anyone. And Starbucks has nothing to do with my local church, my family, or the Gospel.

What is “Christmas,” anyway?

The history of Christmas is long, slightly convoluted, and very interesting. I could digest all of it for you, or you could go look up a guy named William Federer and let him explain it (you got this… I believe in you). Spoiler alert: a lot of what we think of when we think of Christmas is either a direct Christian symbol or it became a part of our American Christmas in the last like fifteen minutes of history. Christmas, in the United States, means all sorts of things: red and green, presents, trees, carols (which are mostly very average, let’s be honest), family time, eggnog, NBA basketball games, Santa Claus, etc. Around the world, the Christmas holiday is far more diverse than this, but I personally don’t live there, so I will stick with the US Christmas.

Now, the question I believe we must ask ourselves is this: hypothetically, if Jesus were not a part of our Christmas, how much of it would be different? Actually, let’s be a little harder on ourselves: what do we actually do as a part of our Christmas tradition in response to and for the glory of Jesus? Christmas is great. Lots of good things come of it. Gift-giving is not sinful. Watching Elf is not sinful. Wearing ugly Christmas sweaters is not sinful (unless they have very inappropriate things on them… you know who you are). But as a bit of reflection, does our current Christmas ethos actually include Jesus, anyway? Sure, we sing “Away in a Manger” and put out our Christmas nativity scene. But why do we give gifts? Why do we decorate a tree (history has a cool answer for that)? I am certainly not advocating that your family reject and forsake their holiday traditions. But I am asking us, as Christians, this: before we get upset about taking Christ out of our Christmas, let’s self-assess and decide whether or not our Christmas has Christ in it, anyway. The holidays exists because of Jesus. But does your practice of it glorify Jesus?

Can you even take Christ out of Christmas?

Me personally, I think the accusation that anyone can take Christ out of Christmas is a logically fallacious and flat-out wrong take. I don’t mean these little, superficial moments of your boss sending out a “Holiday Card.” You cannot take Christ out of Christmas because you cannot have Christmas without him. Actually, you cannot have literally anything without him. John proves this point beyond the shadow of a doubt:

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
-- John 1:1-4

Did you catch that? In the beginning was the Word– Jesus, eternally existent, the Son of God. And then John says all things were made through him. Do you remember Genesis 1? How God speaks things into creation? And now we learn Jesus is the Word of God… God spoke things into creation… therefore, all things were made through Christ! Not only does Christmas need Jesus to exist, the entire universe needs Jesus to exist. You can’t take Christ out of Christmas. You can’t take Christ out of anything!

The Bottom Line

Here’s the thing: this isn’t even a big deal. There is one big deal, ever, and that’s the Gospel. Jesus Christ became a man, lived a perfect life, died a death we deserve, in our place, and came back from the dead, defeating sin and death once for all. All we have to do is trust/believe in/put faith in that this good news is enough to pay for our sins because we are, have been, and always will be sinners. Salvation is by grace, through faith, in Christ alone. The culture that we think is taking Christ out of Christmas is a culture that doesn’t actually know who Christ is, anyway.

Christmas is and always will be a holiday that was founded to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who came to be the perfect, atoning sacrifice for sins. Period. End of story. No debate. It doesn’t matter what a Walmart greeter says to us, what Old Navy calls their pajamas, or who yells at us on Facebook. Christmas is a time to share the Gospel. If Jesus never came as a man, he never could have died as our savior. “They” cannot take the truth out of the Gospel anymore than they can take the Christ out Christmas. And if you see “them” this Christmas season, “they” who are trying to take Jesus out of his own holiday, just shake their hand, smile, and love them like Jesus loved us when were still sinners, and he chose to die for us anyway.

Oh, and tell them Merry Christmas. Can’t hurt, can it?

One thought on “Taking Christ out of Christmas: Is it really “them” or is it you?

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