The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Christ or Christmas?

with 5 comments

Christmas is coming. The waterfowl belonging to the tribe Anserini of the family Anatidae are becoming appetisingly tubby; you might wish to provide some kind of charitable donation to the elderly gentleman holding out his headgear in the hope of a handout (work with me on the folk song/nursery rhyme, please). However, this particular Christmas comes on Sunday 25th December. And with Christmas come all the demands that generally get loaded on the Christmas season, and Christmas day in particular. The gifts. The cards. The decorations. The food. The fun and games. The festive films. The family gatherings. Oh, and for some of us, if we have time, maybe a bit of church.

Except that this particular Christmas comes on Sunday 25th December. And because it falls on a Sunday, it raises a question of priority. My point here is not to question – either for assault or defence – the validity of the Christmas celebration. In a Western society we recognise that – love it, like it, or loathe it – this particular season and this particular day come loaded with all manner of cultural baggage, and a fair weight of at least nominally Christian freight as well.

There is nothing inherently wrong with gift-giving, card-sending, thankful feasting, and family gatherings, and much that is inherently good and pleasant. Furthermore, the incarnation is one of the most glorious mysteries of the Christian religion: “our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man,” as Wesley phrased it. Which child of God would not pause to delight in the wonder and excellence of the Godhead veiled in flesh, the incarnate Son – our Immanuel? In some senses this is the foundation of the atonement. There are depths of delight to be plumbed and high songs of praise to be sung. In addition, even in our degraded Western culture there may still be a few whose wish to go through the motions of worship, and that might bring them within earshot – we pray, within heartshot – of the truth of the Son of Man who came to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk 19.10). It may even prove a particularly profitable day in performing acts of mercy for those for whom Christmas is an appropriate (if merely moralistic to some) occasion for such.

But those good and pleasant things ought not to displace the things of first importance. The incarnation ought not to be a doctrine reserved for any particular time of year, and neither is it the particular focus of the Scriptural commands for the worship of Christ Jesus and the commemoration of his work. And while we embrace our opportunities for gospel witness, there are other realities that govern and condition our embrace of those opportunities. And even if you argue for a degree of Christian latitude in the fact or manner of your celebration (or not) of Christmas, there is nothing that requires a Christian – or anyone else – to make the 25th of December a day of particular focus.

But there is something that requires a Christian to make this 25th December a day of particular focus. It is the Lord’s day. It is that one day in seven, that first day of the week, that resurrection day, the day on which the church can and should gather in order to worship their living Lord. And that act of privileged obedience takes precedence over every act of liberty.

That imposes certain demands and pressures on us, on some more than others. For some, we face the desire to ‘do Christmas properly,’ a desire that might need to be toned down or put aside, at least for the day itself. However, for others it is the pressure of making it a real ‘family day,’ as if the family of God should take second place (Mark 3.32-35, anyone?). Such pressure will be painful, especially if many or all of the family are unconverted. But is this an opportunity to show where your priorities lie? It may be the sense of a lazy day, when you get up late and just mooch around, the temptation to minimise or even do away with the public and private exercises of worship. It may be the pressure, especially with young children, to flood the day with gifts and treats, and – even if you do seek to be in church – the forms take precedence while the substance is washed away on a tide of weariness, carelessness and greed. It may be that Christmas trumps Christ altogether, as services of worship and private devotions give way to the fact that, “It’s Christmas, after all.” Indeed, ironically, where in most years saccharine nativity scenes and pappy Christmas sermons rule, this may be the very year when some decide to give church a miss altogether.

However, if we are believers in God and followers of Christ and indwelt by the Spirit, worshippers of the Most High in all his majesty, might, and mercy, then Christmas must give way to Christ. Our attachment to the Lord Jesus must take precedence over all cultural and other pressures. Let the day be, before it is anything else, the Lord’s day. Plan and prepare around that priority, and let that which does not fit within such a framework give place. Indeed, a fairly simple solution might be to postpone or promote the occasion by one day.

So by all means enjoy a feast of good things. By all means take advantage of the trend of thought and feeling to do good to others, body and soul. By all means preach the glories of the incarnation of the eternal Son to those who may, under God, be primed to hear the truth of the Saviour, born of a virgin, born in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord.

But by no means forget the feast of soul that is laid up for the saints of God on the day and at the times when God, in a distinctive way, draws near to bless his gathered people. By no means forget that the best good you can do to a man is to speak the truth as it is in Jesus. By no means fail to declare that this infant born in Bethlehem, weak and helpless, was the mighty God, and that this God-man came into the world for the purpose of salvation through his death and resurrection. Be where you ought to be, doing what you ought to do, seeking what you ought to seek, and in so being, doing and seeking, may God truly bless us, every one.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 December 2011 at 13:31

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. “Let the day be, before it is anything else, the Lord’s day. Plan and prepare around that priority, and let that which does not fit within such a framework give place. Indeed, a fairly simple solution might be to postpone or promote the occasion by one day.”

    Excellent thoughts Jeremy – we’ll be having our seasonal festivities on Monday, our spiritual festivities will be on the Lord’s Day as usual (through the grace of God).

    Paul Wallace

    Friday 9 December 2011 at 13:54

  2. ” It may be the pressure, especially with young children, to flood the day with gifts and treats, and – even if you do seek to be in church – the forms take precedence while the substance is washed away on a tide of weariness, carelessness and greed.”

    If Christ comes before Christmas then it is a sign to those young children of where our treasure is.

    As someone with young children, Christmas can be a difficult time of year. There is so much worldliness attached to the celebrations and many of the ideas and books about focussing on the Lord Jesus and His nativity take little or no regard to the Second Commandment. The Lord’s Day in the midst of this will, I hope, be a refreshment.

    Sarah

    Saturday 10 December 2011 at 13:59

  3. I’ve linked to this post-hope that is OK.

    Sarah

    Thursday 22 December 2011 at 21:28

  4. Good words indeed. I happen to like it when Christmas falls on 25th: as one of the few churches in our area that actually has morning worship, and perhaps the only one that has evening worship on such occasions, we attract people from other congregations who are desirous to worship. Furthermore your advice to promote or postpone is right on – we are “doing Christmas” in about two hours, actually. It’s a simple matter of priority … as you said “Christ or Christmas”. Blessings.

    Matthew Holst

    Saturday 24 December 2011 at 20:33


By all means, consider chipping in . . .

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: