If you watch the news, you would think Christmas is one of the most controversial or despised holidays, but in truth the majority of Americans love to celebrate this tradition. According to Pew Research, 9 in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas; nones, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians in significant numbers all take time each year to commemorate this national holiday.
Christmas is not just a personal celebration; it is a time for family and community to come together. It is a public festival where individual homes and entire neighborhoods post elaborate displays, almost 75% of Americans are open to Christmas decorations on Government property and over 80% find gift-giving brings them joy.
But more important than embracing social conventions and public traditions, is what Americans believe about the historical nature of Christmas. The graphic below indicated that the majority of Americans accept the historical accuracy of key aspects in the biblical account; Jesus laid in a manger, wise men guided by a star, angels announcing the birth and Jesus born of a virgin. In fact, only a tiny percent of people reject all of these key elements.
But celebrating these holy days is not enough… knowing and accepting these historical facts is not enough. Christmas must be for us truth in action. A real life illustration may help us connect these Christmas dots.
In these past few years, studies have suggested that some Christians, like heavy metal Christian rock star Tim Lambesis, have walked away from their faith. For some, the facade of faith is just a means to commercial success or social acceptance. There are certainly a complexity of reasons why some these people rejected their Faith, but one Christian turned atheist explained his reason for walking away stemmed from a disconnect between beliefs and action. Years after turning away from God, and then turning back to God, Mike McHargue observed,
When you lose God through rational analysis, you contemplate life from a materialistic philosophy. This perspective shows you that man’s ideas about God are flawed. I believe again, but I also believe no church sect has figured out the Great Mystery. I have doctrinal beliefs, but I know some of them may be wrong. I just don’t know which ones.
In the midst of emotional conflict, McHargue abandoned the hope of God made certain in the Bible, rejected the materialism of Atheism, and eventually embraced a new faith; a ‘Faith of Confusion.’ McHargue’s new faith begins within himself and is rooted in the unshakable confidence of his own uncertainty. He concludes in his article,
Atheism doesn’t pretend to have answers to every question. Losing God changed me. I no longer feel like I have to have answers to all the questions we face in life. I’m happy to look for an answer without finding one, and I’m comfortable with uncertainty. My faith is an act of simple trust now.
What I know is less important than what I do. Knowing Jesus is not an abstract set of information or a construct of dogma. Being a Christian comes down to the simple of act of dropping my nets when I hear the words, “Come, follow me.”
In short, McHargue argues that the truth which undergirds his beliefs doesn’t matter as long as he takes action on what he believes today.
So what does all this have to do with Christmas?
McHargue’s faith journey is a microcosm of how Americans celebrate Christmas. Like McHargue, many Christians have made one of two mistakes.
- We have either concluded that the truth of Christmas means so much that all tradition must be rejected or…
- that the truth of Christmas is irrelevant as long as we enjoy the traditions.
Both approaches lead to error and ignore a third approach where Christianity is equally both truth and action; Faith is both doctrine and praxis. We cannot have a lasting Faith that diminishes the value of truth for the sake of action, or action for the sake of truth (James 2:17). In relating this to Christmas, it is a season where both truth and tradition matter. Insofar as “tradition” reflects the necessary action that corresponds to the truth of Jesus Christ, we can make two important statements.
First, the truth of Christmas matters. The Bible does not give a smorgasbord of events where we pick and chose the ones we like and reject the ones we find uncomfortable. From the miracle of Jesus’ first incarnation and the promise of His second; and all that lies between, accepting the historical truth of Scripture is the necessary foundation of our Faith.
Second, the tradition of Christmas matters. By tradition, I do not necessarily mean the specific practice of decorating trees or giving gifts (although these are fine ways to commemorate the day). By tradition, I refer the larger practice of the Church setting aside a season to celebrate the first incarnation of Christ and finding ways to demonstrate that truth by reaching to the world.
Christmas is, and must be, truth in action.
For God, Christmas is the truth of His love demonstrated in the condescension of his Son Jesus to take on human flesh so He might bring reconciliation to mankind (John 3:16; Phil. 2:6). For the Christian, Christmas must be the truth of Jesus as our savior manifest in our love to the people we meet each day; a tangible love that points people to the truth that gives us hope.
Christmas without truth ceases to be Christmas. Christmas without action ceases to be Christmas. Christmas is truth in action.