Keep Christ in Christmas is the slogan of choice for many Christians during this time of year. We see the phrase used all over the place — from Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, and Instagram pictures to Pinterest links, blog posts, and videos. While Keep Christ in Christmas is a good way for Jesus followers to remember and live out the spirit of the season, the slogan should never be used as a means to force others to do so.
Here are two things Christians should consider when using the phrase Keep Christ in Christmas in the public arena:
First, our slogans and methods should faithfully reflect the character of Jesus and the humility of his birth. Christmas is the time of year when we reflect on that moment in history when God came to earth in the person of Jesus, assumed the fullness of human flesh, was born in a barn accompanied only by his parents, surrounded by barn animals, and later visited by a few shepherds and sages from the East. It was a simple night. No pomp, ceremony, parties, celebrations, or any of the activities that would normally accompany the birth of a king. The night was steeped in humility. Except for one star in the sky that only a few people even recognized, no one noticed. Calm. Quiet. Peaceful. No trumpets to herald the birth of a King. Just crying. Mary crying out in childbirth, and Jesus crying out as he was born. By all accounts, it was a very uneventful evening.
When we post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram our demand for people to Keep Christ in Christmas, we are in that moment displaying a degree of arrogance, not humility. Instead of pointing people to the humble birth of the incarnate God, we point out how angry we are that people have forgotten the reason for the season. Through a variety of ways and means, we sometimes use power and ridicule in our attempts to force people to recognize Jesus, rather than take up Jesus’ weapons of choice — powerlessness and respect. Before we paste the latest poster or video on Facebook that seeks to force Christ unto our friends, please take a moment to stop, reflect, and consider other options. Let’s try another approach. One that invites people to reconsider the story that started it all. Christmas is the birth story of a King whose entrance into the world was characterized by humility, weakness, love, and peace — not power, intimidation, force, and domination. We only Keep Christ in Christmas when Jesus’ posture of humility shapes our life in the world. Jesus’ birth story is a beautiful one. A humble beginning that captures our imagination and heart. Let us therefore imitate his example and demonstrate a posture of humility as we invite others to embrace the central character the story points to — the character of a loving, unassuming baby.
Second, Christmas is a significant date in the Church’s liturgical calendar, not society’s calendar. Advent and Christmas mark significant moments in the Church’s calendar. We take this time of year to stop, ponder, and anticipate the coming of Jesus, God’s Son, to earth. We mark the season by remembering God’s promise of a Messiah, the One who would inaugurate a new kingdom built on love, salvation, peace, and hope. For me, Christmas is all about Jesus’ incarnation — a powerful story of weakness and beauty. Its intrinsic humility causes me to humbly approach the story with gratitude and servitude. However, so many Christians see this time of year as an opportunity to force the Church’s calendar into the calendar of culture. Round peg, square hole. Trying to force the message of Jesus’ birth into the pattern of the world is an exercise in futility. We will use enormous amounts of energy, time, and resources attempting to do something that will never work. The empire of the world may have hijacked the season with consumerism, greed, and the relentless pursuit of goods, using Christmas as an opportunity to buy and sell, but trying to force culture to respect our holiday (so to speak) will yield minimal results. And, if we see any results at all, they will be based in fear, guilt, and manipulation, not love, awe, and peace. Jesus didn’t enter the world through force, and we should never think we can enter the world with his message through this means.
Christmas is the Church’s time to reflect, ponder, and anticipate the King’s arrival as we wait for his return. And we should point people to the story and invite them to experience it for themselves. However, the means we use to do so should echo the means God used — humility, invitation, and embrace. If we believe the Church and State are one and the same, that our nations are Christian and that governments should seek for ways to force culture to observe the Church’s calendar through law and legislation, we are so wrong. Faith should always retain a separate identity from the state. When we try to enforce faith through law, we will fail miserably. Jesus entered the world through the humility of a normal birth, in a barn, surrounded by animals. The Church must look for ways to imitate his posture when we enter our world with his message. When we enter our world, a world in many ways similar to the time of Jesus, we must do so in humility. We need to humbly point people to his birth and what his birth points to, but we should never employ means that reflect the state more than Jesus. This Sunday at South Side we will begin to celebrate this wonderful season by starting a new sermon series entitled “Carols.” For four weeks we will look at Christmas Carols, and how they deeply impact our lives. Worship begins at 10:45, and we would love to have you celebrate with us!
Barry Pettit is lead minister at South Side Church of Christ in Washington Court House.