Tim Stanley, has this week given expression to what many Christians have been feeling for years.
There's a tension in our culture between what is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of the Son of God and the sugar-coated, consumerist, “magical” idea of Christmas that it has now become. With every passing year, the Christmas “event” becomes less and less about Jesus. Advertisements, Christmas cards and songs on the radio all focus on food, family, presents, an unspecified feeling of peace and goodwill, and the remote possibility of snow.
Stanley's answer is to boycott the Christmas cultural experience. He believes it's psychologically unhealthy to be anticipating for a couple months a celebration that will focus on a short time of present-giving and over-eating.
In his column, Stanley said he walks out of shops playing Christmas music in November. He's similarly unimpressed with the hullabaloo in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, preferring instead to concentrate on the '12 Days of Christmas' which, in his Roman Catholic tradition, are far more important than Advent and only begin on Christmas Day itself.
But here's the dilemma: we do want to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and we do want to make the most of the opportunities presented to us at this time of year, especially when it comes to encouraging people to consider the gospel. Don't we want them to come to events put on by our churches? Aren't we mindful that there is still some residual sense in the culture that going to church in December might not be the most ridiculous thing imaginable?! This is the one time of the year when it is relatively easy to invite your friends to church.
So, should we fully embrace the coming weeks’ hype as something that is inevitably part of our culture and something which, positively, we can use for some gospel benefit? Or should we avoid it completely as something bordering on the blasphemous?
Perhaps most of us stand somewhere in between those two views – uncomfortable about some aspects of the way we do Christmas, but still seeking to use it as a special time to give thanks together as families for the birth of Jesus Christ.
And when it is done right, the buying, giving and receiving of presents and the feasting for a few days are good things we can enjoy with thankfulness to God. Some of us even enjoy the Christmas music and Christmas jumpers!
May I give a word of advice to any who decide to fully enter into the celebrations of the season? I encourage you to be godly about it. Don’t make Christmas a time when you abandon normal Christian behaviour as though God is giving you a day off; drunkenness, selfishness and greed – the idolatry of good food, possessions or experience – can spoil your witness and your relationships.
Also, be clear in your own mind and explain to your friends and family what it is about the “story” that is true and what is just mythology: Stick with the historical accounts in the Gospels; if you are going to do the Father Christmas thing, do it in a way that your kids know deep down that this is a just a game. Don’t try and pretend it is all about the birth of Jesus, but we can and should talk about his birth. And just as historically the celebration of Christmas was used to “redeem” pagan end-of-winter festivals, so too we can redeem each Christmas as we celebrate it correctly.
Above all, whether you use the word “Christmas” or not, and whether you celebrate the season or not, take every opportunity to point people to the astounding reality that God was “incomprehensibly made man”, not to give us some public holidays but for the purpose of saving his people from their sins.
That is definitely a good reason for a party.
Graham Nicholls is Director of Affinity, a partnership of evangelical churches working to advance the work of the gospel in the UK and Ireland