Sacred Time and Space: A Case for a Merry Christmas
We have entered what is often called “The Holiday Season.” Anchored by Thanksgiving and Christmas, this time of year often results in family visits, big meals, and presents. These holidays, especially Christmas, also come under fire from multiple sources. Aren’t these just excuses for gluttony and crass commercialism? Don’t these holidays possess religious foundations that go against our separation of Church and State?
What these questions imply is often called “The War on Christmas,” by one side of course. Do we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? Do we put up manger scenes or Santa and his sleigh? The essence of this debate goes deep. It comes down to a battle over time and space.
The defining of time and space occurs more than we might think. Memorials, whether they be plaques, statues, or giant monuments, set aside ground for the particular purpose of commemoration. Graves in part also share this function. Lincoln called the cemetery and battlefield of Gettysburg “this hallowed ground.” July 4th means a day off, parades, and cookouts. But few do not also know that it is time set aside to remember and celebrate American Independence—and hence America herself.
We are called upon when encountering such time and space to remember, to celebrate, and to even imitate that which is noble and beautiful in them. Christmas is no different. Does Christmas merely celebrate time for family, giving gifts, and competing with the Jones’s for better decorations? Or does it truly commemorate the birth of Christ and the beginning of the incarnation of God Himself upon the earth?
Some Christians attempt to by-pass this debate altogether. They refuse to celebrate Christmas. Their reasoning is multi-faceted. Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, celebrated in many instances as the birthday of pagan gods. Christmas is celebrated in such crass, commercial ways that it becomes a religion dedicated to secular, material gain. Finally, we should celebrate Christ’s birth—and resurrection—all year, not just certain days.
I respect this position. I agree that Christmas has become too often a pull for more and more stuff. In doing so it teaches us the wrong principles of our material goods. I also understand that Christmas has pagan backgrounds. Further, I concur that Christ’s birth should be remembered and celebrated all year, not just one day.
At the same time, I disagree with them in not celebrating every December 25. The crass commercialism Christmas often becomes is not essential to the holiday. Christians can refocus it, at least in their own lives and congregations, just as they have let it drift. We can read Old Testament prophesies of the coming Messiah, topped off by the Christmas story itself as presented in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. These times can permeate the season, not just be an afterthought to a Christmas Eve service. Gift-giving can itself become a moment to remember, an imitation of Christ’s many gifts made possible by the present of presence in the incarnation.
Christ’s birth should be an object of our thinking and our prayerful praise year-round. Yet setting aside a day makes that day sacred time. Setting up a manger scene is similarly setting aside space in which the Gospel of the incarnation is proclaimed. These can certainly be empty symbols—just as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper can be empty when not properly received. Yet done rightly, the celebration of Christmas can remain a time when Christians rejoicing remember God become man, the moment when Heaven broke onto earth, God crashed into time, and the central event of world history began to unfold before the eyes of poor shepherds.
Finally, let us recall that holidays are not new to Western commercial culture. The Old Testament is filled with Holy Days whose intention included remembering the great deeds of the Lord. Just as the ancient Hebrews set aside days in which to commemorate the great deeds of God, so let us do the same. During this holiday season, Merry Christmas, the Savior is born.
I like the article’s subtitle (“Christmas is a lot of things, but first and foremost it’s what you make it”) better than the article itself. I think it’s fine for you, Adam, to celebrate the commemoration of Christ’s first advent in the ways in which you prefer to do so. I support your choice to re-focus your own celebration of the Christmas holiday in particularly Christ-focused ways.
I do not, however, support the idea that this is an Ought. Something that should be done.
You may have reasons why you believe that disagreement with those who abstain from Xmas is a plausibly reasonable response, but that doesn’t appear in the article. I honestly have a hard time seeing anyone come up with a good argument as to why one must celebrate or not celebrate Christmas in any particular fashion.
Personally, I celebrate the day secularly and in identical fashion to how I celebrate a day like the Fourth of July. With the Fourth, I pay no heed to Our Nation’s origins so I use the day as a means to enjoy the enjoyment of friends and family and food. So too are my celebrations of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Completely secular. Of course, I’m not personally moved by traditions or commemorations that much so it makes sense that I wouldn’t personally invest meaning into these celebrations.
This is why I like the subtitle better. Where the subtitle suggests the liberty for Christians to make what they want of holidays and pursue them in the liberty that Christ has granted them, the article prescribes a sort of Best Practice. I don’t believe there is such a thing, as these holidays are not ordained and prescribed by Scripture.
Me thinks thou dot protest too much. I certainly did not mean that one must celebrate Christmas. I responded to some who have said I should not. Liberty exists in this area to observe and abstain from observance.
However, liberty to do what we think best is an opportunity to discuss what that best is. I would not celebrate Christmas if I didn’t think it was better to do so than to not. Thus I do believe liberty leaves room for debating what is better.
The advantages, as I said in the article, come from both public display and private devotion. Publicly, there will always be battles over time and space. That is one reason Christmas came into being in the first place. Meaning will be attached to places and dates, so why not use a date historically set aside to proclaim and celebrate the incarnation by, well, proclaiming and celebrating the incarnation? The fact that it has gained such secular power does not mean that was its origin; nor does it mean it has to be that way in the general culture. If it changed one way, it can change another. I would rather see a manger scene than Santa Claus. The former provides a better context for evangelism than the latter.
Privately, our lives today are often so caught up in material goods and over-long work schedules. Our doctrine is unfathomable, in the sense that God is beyond comprehension. Therefore, taking a particular day to stop and celebrate the particular miracle of God’s incarnation is helpful. It both gives pause to these bad tendencies and allows us to focus on one part of the greatness of God.
Once again, one doesn’t have to celebrate Christmas. But liberty does not mean one cannot urge the advantages of one practice over another.
Really, it’s not a comment from me if people aren’t certain that I’m protesting too much.
My point is that there are numerous ways to rightly celebrate Christmas, so statements like “done rightly, the celebration of Christmas can remain a time when Christians rejoicing remember God become man…” tend to grate for they to the idea that a Best Way to Celebrate is knowable.
I submit that I am doing rightly by celebrating a secular Christmas. It may even be possible that my version of Christmas is better than your version. But since that’s not something we can do any more than simply speculate about, I’d rather not labour the point. One thing I’m pretty sure of: a secular Christmas is the better choice for me personally.
You say, “I would rather see a manger scene than Santa Claus.” That’s a fine preference to have and I’d probably agree (unless maybe it was an undead Santa). But better than either, I’d prefer to see neither. Santa is a garish monster and the manger is an icon of precious Christian sentimentalism and neither have much of a place in my heart.
As to the idea that “the former provides a better context for evangelism than the latter,” I can really only respond with: If you say so. I don’t personally see it—that one context is better than another.
All I’m saying is that there are a million ways to treat the Christmas holiday and glorify Christ in the so-doing. To claim a particular method to be more right than any other seems a little too omniscient to my mind.
Dane, fair enough. We certainly don’t want to get bogged down in a debate of this kind. Nor would I ever claim omniscience. It is quite possible that we are both wrong to some degree and on some point of this discussion. Regardless, have a Merry Christmas, however you decide observe (nor not)!
I’ll probably end up celebrating in a fashion not unlike how you will, as my wife prefers a religious Christmas. It was easier celebrating my version of Christmas when I was single. This is probably how it feels to visit a Hari Krishna temple. You might take part in the fun for the sociological aspect of things but your heart isn’t really in it.
And you’re right that it’s not a big deal. I just like to make my voice heard because I think the option of Christians partaking in a secular Christmas doesn’t even appear on the radar of most Christians and so a number of Christians (like Ben) hate a perfectly acceptable holiday because of the morass the holiday is mired in due to its the mixture of sacred and profane.
Some seek to solve the problem by stripping out the profane and the worldly in order to better secure the sacred. I seek to strip out the sacred in order to render the profane inert. (I feel comfortable doing this because the holiday is not Christian insofar as coming from Christ, but only Christian in that it, in part, came from Christians—and I owe no fealty to the fabrications of my brothers in Christ.) I think either solution is acceptable. The latter just better suits my personality and my view of memorial dates.
Comments are now closed for this article.