I was in church one Sunday when the subject of “Christmas” vs. “Holiday” trees came up. As you might guess most of those in the group adamantly insisted on the use of “Christmas tree” citing the Christian duty to keep Christ in Christmas. Personally, I am a stickler for keeping Christ central in all worship, whether it centers around a specific holiday or not. My understanding, as I read my Bible, is that the whole of our lives as Christians will exalt Christ, honor him, and reveal him as we live in intimate communion with him. The spirit of Christmas–that is the awareness and influence of the character of Christ–must live in us year-round. It’s less the spirit of Christmas (as a holiday, season, or event), and all about Christ’s Spirit, who dwells within us.
It seems in many cases, we want to keep Christ in Christmas on a conceptual level. Yet we still emphasize the temporal accessories of Christmas–the decorations, the gifts, the holiday traditions. And like so many things in Christendom, these more often than not have lost their meaning. We just do them because their traditions and we have such fond memories attached to them. If we’re really interested in keeping Christ in Christmas…or anything else for that matter…we’ll focus more on the person of God, and not the concepts or expressions of our faith.
There are four gospels in the Bible, written by four different people. All of these look at the life and ministry of our one common Savior, and yet all four emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ life. They don’t contradict, they harmonize and give us a deeper and richer view of Jesus. Our lives should work the same way. “The church is a body made up of many different parts, and though its parts are many, they form one body” (1 Corinthians 12). Our traditions and expressions may vary as much as our experiences with God vary, but this should deepen and enrich our view of God, not cause division; without contradicting the truth of God. Remember: There is no prescription in the New Testament regarding holidays, or ways to worship. There is a lot of freedom in how we honor God. We just want to make sure it’s God we’re honoring. And that brings us to the real quandary.
One of the people in our little discussion group made sure to point out that Christmas trees are pagan and that they have no place in Christian worship. I understand that Christmas is a rival celebration set up, not at the time of Jesus’ birth, but during the festival of Saturlina–a pagan festival. I also understand that things like evergreens, wreaths, yule logs, gift giving, and such were used in the celebration of this pagan festival. But we also need to remember that “giving good gifts to those who ask him” is something God does. So just because pagans gave gifts in their festival, for example, it doesn’t mean gift-giving is pagan and evil. Secondly, it’s not a pagan tree! It’s God’s tree. Romans 1 tells us that God’s invisible attributes are revealed through what has been made. God made trees to glorify him. It’s His tree, not theirs. Just because they misused trees and greens and logs to point to false gods, it doesn’t make those things evil. In fact, it’s kind of our Christian duty to set the record straight–with gentleness and respect, isn’t it?
How we go about declaring God’s glory to the world is a fluid endeavor. Our foremost calling is to be near to God. He is our focus, He is our goal. When we are walking with God we will find a great deal of opportunity, in a vast variety of ways, to make the invisible attributes of God visible (to glorify him). I know we tend to be very afraid of “doing it wrong,” and if we think someone is “doing it wrong” we shun them or shoot them. Let’s not. This fear is most often present because our faith is dependent on our efforts, not God’s work. Let’s have civil discussions and try to learn from one another. Let’s trust God to work in each of his children’s life as he sees fit without trying to stuff someone in our little theological box…after all, matters of tradition and expression, form and style are debatable issues. Let’s be secure enough in our relationship with Christ to receive a blessing from others (whether it’s a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Hanukkah” or a “Happy Holidays” or even “Have a nice day”) and to offer a blessing in return from our own understanding (see Romans 12:14). All that is comes from God and belongs to God. We can see God in everything. Let’s delight in him and celebrate…at every opportunity.