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5 Thoughts on Christmas

18 December 2011 by Frank Turk

This is a recycled post by me from 2007.  It bears repeating.

[1] It is frankly bizarre to associate what happens these days on December 25th (and the 4-ish weeks prior to 12/25) in the English-speaking world with Roman Catholicism in the theological, ecclesiological, or worshipological senses. That is: there's nobody I know who's celebrating Christmas because the day itself turns out to be more holy – except, of course, some Catholics. The rest of us are considering that Christ, in order to die for our sins in accordance with Scripture, had to be born. Which leads me to ...

[2] ... the obvious objection that taking a day and setting it apart to reconsider the birth of Christ is making something holy which God does not – it's a sort of Regulative principle objection. But here's the problem: if one doesn’t read the whole Bible every day and think about the whole thing every day, one is doing by default what one is criticizing others for doing with intention.

You know: you can't mull over the whole of biblical and systematic theology in any kind of thorough or even careful way in the 14 hours you're awake one day and then repeat the process again tomorrow and (for example) hold down a job or take a bath. So breaking the particulars of Biblical and systematic theology up over time – for example, into 52 weeks like the Heidelberg Catechism, or into a "church year", or into a daily reading plan – makes practical sense.

Because you have a human brain with human constraints, you're going to cause each day to be different in some way because you really don’t have a choice. The question turns out to be whether or not you're going to have an intentional way of, as the Bible says, being transformed by the renewal of your mind, or if you're just going to sort of stumble through it.

[3] And then the question comes up, "well, are you saying I must celebrate Christmas? Isn’t that legalism and violating my Christian liberty?" I think the fair comparison – the clear-sighted comparison – is to evangelism, because ultimately that's what I am talking about here (which we will get to in a minute).
You know: when you're standing in the waiting line at the Olive Garden with your family or whatever, I have no qualms saying that you should talk to someone there and try to get the Gospel in as much as it is possible. You should. My guess – and you can argue about the statistics behind this guess if you're that kind of person – is that someone in that waiting line is a lost person who has a sin problem that ends up being a hell problem, and is someone the Gospel is given to be declared to. If you believe in hell and in the only savior of men, you should find a way to talk about the Gospel.

Should. Expresses obligation, propriety, or expediency. Disciples of Christ have an obligation to express the Gospel. Even at the Olive Garden, which may or may not have some historical association with the Roman Catholic church particularly by being an Italian restaurant [sic].

Now, if that's true – and I'd love to see the person who's willing to say that Christians do not have this kind of obligation – how much more obvious is this same obligation on a day which, in the English-speaking world, bears the name of Christ and the whole world is frankly stopped because of it. Last year I published a harmony of the Gospels here at the blog – what if we intentionally gathered as families with both the saved and the sinners and read something like that rather than treating the day as if it's just another day, just like every other day, even though Wall Street and the banks are closed and everyone is frankly looking for something to do?

Opportunities like that don’t just fall out of the sky, especially in a post-Christian culture.

[4] And to connect the dots here between [2] and [3], one might say, "well, cent, I actually do read the Heidelberg Catechism to my kids and we follow the three forms of unity, so my obligation to bringing up my children in the way they should go – evangelizing them, if you will – is taken care of, so your beat-down on me for not observing this day is uncalled for."

Yeah, no. And pay attention, because this is where you imaginary objectors really get my goat.

Paul said this:
    "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
and again:
    For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I agree with you that one perfectly "lawful" means of doing your Christian life is the consideration (as in our example) of the Heidelberg Catechism. Where I part company with the imaginary objector is that you are straining out gnats and swallowing camels, and you have a really big problem if Rob Bell understands something which you do not.

I want you to imagine something: imagine that the whole English-speaking world stops for one day – and by "stops" I mean that there's not even any sports on the TV worth mentioning. Everybody stops working for one day. And for the most part, everyone has this yearning to be with family – even the most weird feel like this day bears some kind of meaning in that it would be good to be with family just this one day.

And on that day, the disciples of Christ get up in the morning, read Heidelberg Catechism Week 51 (ironically, "about the Lord's Day", speaking of holding one day above another), and wander off to work to show those idolatrous Catholics we don't bend a knee to the Pope, carn-sarn it.

Let me suggest to you that this is not only an avoidance of a right-minded "should" for a sort of smug and intellectually-selfish "ought", but it is completely tone-deaf to the real spirit of Christ who became flesh and took up residence among us, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, who has made God known.

Christmas is the opportunity to make God known, people – particularly, to make Christ known. You have the liberty to do that in an obscure or untranslatable way, and you have the liberty to do that in a public and sort of lavish and joyous way – one which reflects your personal response to this God who poured Himself out, took on the form of a servant, allowed himself to be laid in a feeding trough, and came to die for people who deserved themselves to be put to death.

You can play baseball when the sun is shining, or you can play your PSP in your basement and wonder why you don’t know any real people. What you can't do is pretend that your liberty is more valuable than spending your liberty on your responsibilities.

[5] And that leads to my last point (because this is page 3 in WORD), which is to make it clear that what's at stake here is the declaration of the Gospel of God to the lost by all means possible. That's the real "culture war". You have to consider what it means to have a public faith at some point in your travels through sanctification.

Some people want to tell you that the only meaningful way to have a public faith is by church-community and church-worship. That is: somehow the only way, or perhaps the most efficacious way, of demonstrating a public faith is in liturgy in community. And we have to grant something here: depending on what you mean by "liturgy" and "efficacious", and depending on how important you rate the Lord's table and baptism, they have a point.

But if our worship stops at the last pew in the chapel, so to speak, we're just fans. We're not playing the game: we're just watching it.

You are called to do more than watch the game, reader. You are called to run the race, and fight the good fight, and be someone who's not just shadow-boxing in vain. You are called to be a spectacle for the sake of the Gospel, and that doesn’t happened behind closed doors.

Merry Christmas.