I hear many Christians declaring that we need to “Keep Christ in Christmas” because “He’s the Reason for the Season“. Yet, this year, when Christmas fell on Sunday, many churches chose to emphasise their Saturday Christmas Eve Service and some went so far as to cancel their Sunday morning service so that their members could spend time with family.
This state of affairs highlights a reality that many people recognise, but have trouble explaining. There are two distinct holidays both called Christmas.
One holiday places family front and center and close behind is materialism and credit card debt. This holiday has many cultural and family traditions relating to which movies we watch in December, which music we play, and which food we eat. It’s not a bad holiday, in fact, it’s a great experience and an important part of our children’s formative years. It’s warm, it’s rustic and comforting, and hopefully it’s full of love.
So many songs promote this Christmas celebration from, I’ll Be Home for Christmas to Winter Wonderland and Jingle Bells. The romance of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire seems comforting no matter if you live in Florida or Australia and never see snow, or eat chestnuts for Christmas.
Likewise, the list of Christmas moves is extensive. Here’s a list of 50 with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe being as religious as it gets. From classics including A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life to modern classics such as Elf, and Home Alone many families have their own movie play list at this time of year.
The other holiday is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s a celebration of God becoming human: the Incarnation. The Incarnation is also a story of love. A story of God’s love toward us. In John 3:16-17 Jesus himself described what happened at his birth. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
The Christian celebration requires worship. It has its own set of sacred carols, but not so many movies. The Christian holiday has also been romanticised. It focuses upon the cute scenes of a baby in a manger surrounded by shepherds and animals. If that’s the totality of the Christian story then it’s no wonder so many have bought into an alternative narrative.
From a Christian perspective the Incarnation of Jesus should prompt people to contemplate questions about the Trinity and the nature of the Godhead. We should ponder the relationship between God and humanity. The miraculous advent of Jesus gives a greater depth of meaning to subsequent events surrounding his death and resurrection.
Additionally, the Biblical account of Jesus birth provokes us to consider complex social topics including the relationship between Christ and political powers, the tragedy of violence, and the plight of refugees. We also contemplate the titles given Jesus and how he is “God with us”, the “Prince of Peace”, and “Saviour”. None of these discussions have cute answers.
Because both of these holidays, the secular and the Christian, are each called Christmas and because they overlap and many people celebrate both… it’s easy to mistake one for the other.
Family is important. God wants us to live within loving families. Traditions, myths, songs, and movies encourage people and provide shared experiences and values. But for Christians, Christmas first and foremost is about reminding ourselves that God loves us immeasurably. Sometimes family reminds us of this truth. Sometimes family causes us to question this truth.
And sometimes, the secular holiday pulls us away from our Christian celebration. For some of us having the picture perfect Christmas dinner, or ensuring the children have time to open their gifts and play with them, take a higher priority than worshiping our Saviour.
I’m not writing this post to beat anyone up, but to emphasise how easy it is to lose focus on the miracle of the Word becoming Flesh. We don’t keep Christ in Christmas because we say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”. We keep Christ in Christmas by allowing ourselves to dwell upon the Power, Wisdom, Humility and Love found in that manger. We keep Christ in Christmas through worship. And we keep Christ in Christmas by keeping our lives centered upon God and reflecting God to others, because the birth of Christ makes a difference in our lives.
I’m still trying to understand the fuss about Chick-Fil-A. Dan Cathy gets asked a question, he answers it, suddenly there’s a boycott?!?!?! I thought C-F-A was well known as being run/owned by conservative Baptists, hence the whole closed on Sunday thing. What did they expect him to answer? He didn’t take out an ad in the paper or refuse to serve or hire someone who is gay.
I also don’t think Christians turning out on one day to buy sandwiches really sends a positive message. It simply creates conflict and perpetuates the “us vs them” mentality. It certainly doesn’t communicate love and concern. If you want to support C-F-A eat there once a week for the rest of the year. If you really care about gay activists, find a less emotionally intense setting to develop a productive dialogue about Jesus and God’s will for their lives.
As I understand the Bible, I believe that homosexuality is sinful. I also know that people involved in that lifestyle seldom feel like they have a choice. I know that some of the transgender circumstances pose questions and issues that I doubt the New Testament writers ever conceptualised. Saying that homosexuality is sinful doesn’t solve all the difficulties.
In my teen years, my father took a prominent role in campaigning and speaking against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in my home state. He was even interviewed on national TV! As my family attended several rallies intended to assert political pressure on the government I witnessed a lot of fear, anger and antagonism. Ultimately, the law was repealed.
As I reflect on the whole process one thing I can be pretty certain of is that no gay person became a Christian as a result of those rallies. I’m also pretty certain that no gay person would talk with my dad about their relationship with God. I think we lost sight of the big picture.
Having said that, I certainly understand the little picture. I fear for my daughter (currently 2) being taught by trusted authority figures at school that homosexuality is an acceptable, alternative lifestyle. This will create conflict as she’s made to choose between teachers and parents and church teachers. Should she trust the Bible, or her curriculum more? Perhaps she’ll even be pressured to “experiment” with that lifestyle.
But let’s be honest. She’ll also receive similar messages and pressure discounting heterosexual relationships and the value and sanctity of marriage. In fact, it’s most likely that this will be the area in which she’ll face the greatest temptations. For all the same reasons that I would hope she will honour God by maintaining sexual purity in relationships with the opposite sex, I believe it’s realistic to expect she can filter the messages promoting homosexual relationships.
I feel that a Christian approach is not to seek to impose my beliefs upon the school system, (I’m not saying I’d be silent, I should still participate in my community) but to equip my daughter and other children in the church to love God and follow his word. Intellectually, I have confidence that nothing is more powerful than God, his Spirit, and His Word. Not even sin.
Putting that into practice is scary!
It’s much easier to go somewhere with a sign and protest to make the world the way I want it to be, or to withdraw from interaction with the world, rather than working for God and allowing him to change people’s hearts. Can I trust God that he could use my daughter and her family to influence others? Have I convinced myself that God no longer has any ability to transform lives and therefore society? Is there no hope for our communities?
I’m certainly no expert, so I collated a list of some resources that you might find helpful (They’re probably not experts either, but I found their thoughts helpful). My basic question is “What attitude should Christians adopt as we consider our interaction with the LGBT community?”
- James Nored: Missional Outreach Network “It is Christ, not morality, that saves us and attracts the world“.
- John Dobbs: Out Here Hope Remains “The Chicken Sandwich War“.
- John Alan Turner: Faith 2.0 has a couple of good articles here and here.
- Larry Mendte: The Philly Post “What You Need to Do Before You Boycott a Philly Chick-fil-A“
- Rex Butts: Kingdom Seeking “The Cost of Waging the Culture War” Part 1 and Part 2
- Jonathan Storment: Stormented.com “A Christian Response to Homosexuality“
- Keith Brenton: Blog in My Own Eye “Homosexuality: We Don’t Know What We’re Talking About“
- Tim Pyles: Thinking Out Loud “The Politics of Chicken“
- Parick Mead: Tentpegs “Straight Talk on Gay Marriage” and a deeper article here.
- Ben Witherington III: [VIDEO] “The Bible and Homosexuality“.
- Bob Russell: Bob Russell Ministries “Dan Cathy And The Silence Of Many Churches” – An alternative approach.
Okay, I hope that’s helpful. None of them are particularly deep, but I think they have a pretty consistent message.
Please share other articles that you think are helpful. Just be warned that I’ll delete any comments I perceive as aggressive.
- If you missed Sunday’s lessons by Alexander Tullis , you can listen to Part I here, and Part II here. You can also listen to my comments here.
- Read more about our reasoning for HARMONY Sunday here.
I felt as though HARMONY Sunday went very well and was a successful launch to an annual event designed to help us examine who God has called us to be as a multicultural congregation.
I was recently reminded, through some of my reading, that “when a church commits to grow, it commits to change”. My church is different because I’m a part of it. So as other people join it, the church continues to change. For some people this is a challenging thought. If we believe that the church is supposed to fit a divine pattern then nothing should change it; the change seems human and wrong. Yet a brief survey of Paul’s letters demonstrates that different churches contain different cultures.
The Corinthian church seems to have had a high proportion of non-Jew converts, so they had a lot of problems with morality and questions about how they should live within a pagan culture. In contrast Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches addresses a lot of questions that Jewish Christians would have had regarding their relationship to the Mosaic law.
I imagine that if I walked into the Corinthian church meeting, it would have a very different atmosphere to that of the Galatian churches. The predominantly Jewish church would probably conduct itself much like a synagogue meeting, (tending to be formal, men and women sitting separately, lots of Scripture reading), while the non-Jewish Christians would have very little to compare a church service to and would probably have less structure. The issue in 1 Cor. 11 of the meal taking over Lord’s Supper may reflect the cultural customs of the young church as much as anything.
I never get the feeling that Paul wants every congregation to look exactly the same. He just deals with each church where it’s at. He calls each to live for God and bring glory to His name, but that’s not the same as requiring them to look identical.
Culture should never take the place of truth, but it will inevitably impact how we share and express God’s truth. I would love to hear examples from people who’ve seen different cultures enrich a church. Do you see any particular challenges for multicultural churches? Have you seen any imaginative approaches to including people from different cultures within one church?
Coincidentally the Christian Chronicle landed on my desk the Saturday before HARMONY Sunday and it featured several articles on multicultural churches. You can read these articles here and here and here.
Finally, if you have any thoughts about HARMONY Sunday 2009 or ideas for 2010 please share them. New ideas and improvements are welcome.
Rather than list songs this week, I thought I’d put together a starter list of Scriptures relevant to a multicultural church. Feel free to add your suggestions.
- Acts 2:5-12 “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.“
- Romans 12:3-5 “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.“
- Romans 12:13-21 “Live in harmony with one another…Do not think you are superior.“
- 1 Corinthians 10:14:17 “We who are many, are one body.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:32 “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God.“
- Ephesians 2:10-22 “In him you too are being built together…“
- 1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.“