Here in Houston I have seen several cars with the bumper sticker “Keep Christ in Christmas”. Sometimes this is addressed to the use of “Xmas” instead of “Christmas”, though Mike Bird and our own David Capes rightly points out that X (chi in Greek) was commonly used as an abbreviation for Χριστός. However, the more usual target of this exhortation is for the impinging secularism on the holiday. There are many ways that this secularism is embodied, but I want to think about a way that most Protestants have bought into a form of secularism.
Is Christmas a family holiday or a religious holiday for you? I celebrate it with my family, but of course, you might say, it is a religious holiday. Would you ever go to church on Christmas day? No, you might say, I wouldn’t because I’m spending that time with my family. Instead of putting those words in your mouth, those are the exact words that I have said in the past. I was not bothered in the least, either, when my church cancelled services on Christmas day. Of course, we should spend time with family on Christmas, not at church.
I thought this until I spent five years in England, where in our Methodist church we went to services every Christmas. The first year our minister and her family had to entice us to the services by inviting us to dinner afterwards. They were such gracious hosts to include us who were without our extended family. This act reminded us that in the Gospels Jesus redefines family: Jesus didn’t disparage blood-relative families, but he elevated the new family, the community of the church. If we are to celebrate a family holiday properly, we must have this reconstituted family, the church, in mind.
But even more important is the celebration of one of the most significant acts of God in the history of the world. Where do we celebrate the acts of God more fully than the church. In a book we read for my church ministry class this fall, Exploring Ecclesiology, the authors make the claim that evangelicals don’t have an ecclesiology; we don’t have a real place for the church in our individualistic spirituality. Of course, many Protestants think, we don’t need to celebrate this great and saving revelation of God at church because we don’t need the church. But I would ask, what is a more Christian way to celebrate the birth of Christ than in a worship service with other believers?
Is Christmas a religious holiday or a family holiday? I think our actions speak louder than our words. Our English bretheren surely thought that we Americans had sold out our faith to the consumerism of gift-receiving rather than first celebrating the incarnation of our Lord and Christ. Many will go to Christmas eve services, which is a great step towards this celebration. But our English church did this, as well as a service on Christmas morning.
McDonald’s will be open this year for Christmas day. Will your church? Will you help keep Christ in Christmas?