Recently on an online message board that I frequent, the question was asked, "Do atheists and other non-Christians celebrate Christmas?" There are a handful of outspoken unbelievers on the board, as well as a few devout adherents to other faiths, and I think all of them weighed in. All of them basically agreed that Christmas is a great holiday that they enjoy very much. They enjoy the time off from work certainly, but also the special get-togethers with family and friends. Some actually put up a Christmas tree. All of them said they give and receive gifts. They love the whole atmosphere that surrounds this time of year, with its emphasis on joy, giving and love.
All of that is wonderful, of course. I'm genuinely glad that this special season is enjoyable to my friends and neighbors of other beliefs, and of no beliefs at all. But as a Christian, I am glad to say that my celebration of Christmas is more than a "winter holiday" (as the school system now refers to the break between semesters), more than an excuse to take time off from work, see loved ones, open gifts, and get fat on some really great cooking (although I delight in all of the above). It is more than Bing Crosby songs, It's a Wonderful Life, Scrooge's redemption and "You'll shoot your eye out, kid," although I treasure those things as well. It is the time we celebrate a God who did what none of us could have predicted--became one of us--so that we could possess what none of us could have earned--full justification, spotless and perfect in the sight of our Judge for all eternity.
Let's be clear on something: We Christians don't "own" Christmas. We merely took over an ancient pagan holiday. Instead of feasting and gift-giving in the name of gods no one believes in anymore, our forefathers chose to rejoice in the incarnation of Christ, even though the Bible never commands us to do so. For the most part, our observances of Christmas are shaped more by Charles Dickens, Clement C. Moore, and Irving Berlin (and Macy's, Old Navy, and JC Penney) than by Scripture. But take away all the tinsel and tissue paper, and only we Christians still have a reason to celebrate. Even if we can't be with our loved ones at Christmas time; even if our bills preclude us from buying something wonderful for all the people on our list (or if the gifts we receive fail epically at meeting our desires); even if our cholesterol keeps us from enjoying "Roast Beast" with all the other Whos in Whoville, we still have a God who loves us enough to take our place. So celebrate the Messiah this week...intentionally.
This Christmas Eve, we will have two candlelight services, as usual. The 5:30 service is a little shorter to acommodate families with small children. The 7:00 service will be more full (there's a bigger crowd, and a bigger service as well). But you're invited to either one. Make sure your friends know they are invited, too. I will be speaking briefly (10 minutes or so) as I continue our series on "God So Loved the World" with a look at that word, "Whosoever" in John 3:16.
Sunday, we'll conclude the series by focusing on Christ's promise of everlasting life. What difference should it make in our lives if we really believe in that promise?
Let me say it once again: When's the last time you invited someone to church? Now is the perfect time. They need a reason to really celebrate, too.