December 13, 2016

The Wonder of Christmas & The War on Christmas

Last year, a Muslim went to an office Christmas party in San Bernadino and five minutes later was killing 14 of his associates. If you are triggered like this by going to an office Christmas party, or have other adverse reactions, then you need to understand the deeper meaning of Christmas. Buried beneath all of the pagan trappings, the gift of Christ is eternal peace, joy and unconditional love.

Now More Than Ever, Christmas Needs to be Unpacked

There are a lot of misconceptions and falsehoods presented on Christmas, while the deeper meaning of this holiday holds a lot of promise for the world. The contrast and conflict of Christmas is not at all new. There is the mystical and peaceful manger where Jesus was born contrasted with a literal genocide. Yes, there was a literal war against the young Jesus the very first “Christmas" season, and there was lot's of collateral damage as Herod sought to kill any possible child that could have been the promised Messiah. So there's much more to the Christmas story than the “Silent Night” lyrics we've serenaded with and worshiped to. There are various kinds of Christmas attacks these days by atheists and Muslims. And while part of this seems like pure political censorship, another aspect seems based on real hatred of what Christmas stands for. There's also the colorful infighting among Christians regarding the apostasy of paganism versus our freedom in God's grace, not to mention the contested historical revisionism of Christmas. Some claim that a 1823 Christmas quote by Thomas Jefferson (oh yeah, he's always good for some controversy.) is atheistic, while others claim it is the opposite. And don't forget the ultimate question for some cultural Christians: Will Starbucks coffee cups have any Christmas imagery this year? With these things in mind, let's begin unpacking the most controversial gift of all, the gift of Christ on Christmas. But before getting into the meat of this subject, there are videos that are relevant.
This Donald Trump speech on Christmas was featured in a Right Wing Watch video because he is interested in promoting both the historic and timeless significance of Christmas in America:

In contrast to Trump's endorsement of Christmas, another video suggests that Muslim Syed Rizwan Farook was "triggered" by going to a Christmas party just before his San Bernardino shooting spree:

The Glory and Wonder of God Incarnate

These days, if you can read about the central message of Christmas without being triggered, it seems like you're doing okay. The main reason why secular atheists typically allow New Age celebrations and Santa Clause is because these do not convict the conscience of sin, offend the humanist ego and challenge positivist assumptions. What makes Christianity distinct is highlighted in the context of the birth of Christ. Humanity is sinful, God is perfect, and humanity requires God in the flesh to become a propitiation for the sin of mankind, all by Gods grace as a free gift to humanity, so that there can be eternal communion between God and mankind. The glory and wonder of the incarnate God is all good, as long as you are willing to admit that without redemption you are basically a loathsome sinner in need of a Savior. In case this sounds overly simplistic, it is. The concepts of transcendent redemption and forgiveness touch upon so many fascinating subjects that it is mind blowing. I had written on some of these aspects in an article titled, "Christmas: The Beauty and Challenge of Forgiveness" - that touches on art, science, psychology. and most of all, our deepest needs for love and significance.

I Came not to Bring Peace, But a Sword

The essence of Christmas is the gospel message. No wonder Christmas is so controversial. Though Christ did come to bring peace as the Messiah, through offering himself as a sacrifice for our sin, and because Christ was rejected by a sin-loving world, Christ in many ways has become a source of division and violence. This is because mankind tends to have a rebellious nature, along with the gift of free will. Every year, it seems that there are many examples of "The war on Christmas" in our society, with Christmas trees being burned down in Sweden in 2016,  five US examples noted here and three more recent ones here. The first mention of a culture war against Christmas was in 1959, the John Birch Society published a JBS pamphlet titled “There Goes Christmas?!” stating, “One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas — to denude the event of its religious meaning.” They warned of a proliferation of UN themes replacing Christmas ones: "Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations.”

While most of the hostility against Christmas has comes from secular-atheists and the progressive left, Muslims seem to be stepping up their attacks also. Jesus didn't pretend that it wouldn't be like this: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34 KJV) As I mentioned, the very first "Christmas season" featured a genocide and "Massacre of the Innocents" - as it is called. Though atheists may claim that God cannot be good for allowing evil into the world, philosopher Alvin Plantiga has offered a logical argument in favor of free will called, “The Free Will Defense.” and, “...most philosophers accept Plantinga's free will defense and thus see the logical problem of evil as having been sufficiently rebutted.” Though we Christians are often attacked for our beliefs, scriptures outline that our anchor in life is transcendent and that consistent hope and joy in life are possible. Not only that, we are free to love our enemies unconditionally because we know that God will ultimately judge all people justly.

Christian Infighting on Christmas

There are a lot of heresy hunters that will offer that celebrating Christmas is unacceptable for any Christian, because of the many pagan influences. While I would definitely acknowledge the pagan aspects of the Christmas holiday, I would leave it up to the individual to decide what is God's will in the here and now. In my opinion, scripture offers leeway with regard to this one. At least there is not the apparent celebration of evil, as with Halloween. Here is an applicable verse, and I'll use the King James version for the extra-holy effect: “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:4 KJV). And Paul offers the “stumbling block principle” in 1 Corinthians 8: 4-9, concluding that, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Basically, don't invite Christian friends that you know are on the legalistic side over for spiked eggnog and carols around the Christmas tree. The main question for the Apostle Paul is: "Does this edify?" as he writes, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify." (1 Corinthians 10:23 KJV) Paul stated, "Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God's grace." (Romans 6.14 NLT). You can debate the theology of Christmas, but I personally don't sense God calling me to that.
Thomas Jefferson's Christmas Quote

Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." This quote by Jefferson was from an 1823 letter to John Adams. Some atheists take this quote out of context and make false claims about its intended meaning. In the same letter, however, Jefferson makes it clear that he believes in God as Creator and that this is a source of not just the physical universe, but all that is logically implied by the universe, with respect to God's implied great wisdom and power: “On the contrary I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it's parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to percieve and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of it's composition.” You can read the entire letter at this link.

The Christmas Promise Lives

What is the promise of Christmas? The promise of Christmas begins with many prophecies about the coming Messiah. For example, Isaiah 7:14  describes the virgin birth of the incarnate Messiah. Isaiah 11.1 describes how the Messiah will be of the family of Jesse: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (NIV). And at the time of Christ's birth, there was an announcement from angels of peace promised to those that receive God and are not enemies of God. "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2.14 NIV). Christ gave his life as the holy Messiah  for those willing to receive the gospel message so that there could be inner peace and peace with God. This gospel message of hope and freedom lives on today.

The Spiritual Reality Revealed
It's truly amazing the amount ire there is directed against Christ and Christmas from atheists, Muslims and other self-proclaimed enemies. If God does not exist, if God is just a myth like Santa Clause, or if Jesus is not really the Messiah, then there is no logical explanation for the extreme hatred. These people should just be able to let it go and move on. But hostile reactions help to inform that there is in fact a spiritual reality that convicts people of their sins and that, as scripture outlines, the ultimate war is not physical, but spiritual: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12 KJV). In this sense, the first "Christmas" was like a spiritual D-Day against the satanic principalities of this world. And, thus, conflict is actually an inherent aspect of Christmas.
When I read the entire letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1823 to John Adams, I couldn't help but feel the sense of wonder that Jefferson had for the creation and the wise designer of it all. The wonder of Christmas shines through movies such as It's a Wonderful Life, which exemplifies how America once celebrated Christmas with widespread enthusiasm and also highlights virtues of forgiveness, mercy, goodness and redemption. I have to admit that this film causes me to become verklempt, as Barbara Streisand would say on SNL in days of yore. While there are at least 25 reasons why Jesus could be considered the most controversial person in history, any and all problems associated with being a follower of Christ cannot compare to the love, joy, peace and power that comes from this relationship. For the Christian, every day is "Christmas," so to speak, with the indwelling Christ, even as the angels proclaimed, "Emmanuel ...God with us."
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