This week, countless devout Christians throughout the world will celebrate the birth of the Savior. Believers of every stripe revel in that great redemptive moment of the incarnation. It marked the entrance of God into our sin-blighted world. The Only-Begotten Son then began His saving errand by the gateway of the virgin’s womb.
It grieves these sincere believers when Jesus, ‘the reason for the season,’ is elbowed out by the crass materialism and secularism of the age. When Jesus is absent, the celebration just rings hollow. Gone is the manger. Gone the shepherds watching their sheep. Gone the chorus of angelic hosts, announcing the good news of the Christ-child. When the ark is taken, Israel sighs.
And yet, as a Christian, I have a deeper grief yet. My grief arises precisely in the fact that modern Christmas is just old paganism taking off its disguise. Or, the rooster returning to the roost, if you will.
Anyone who has read even a little of the origins of Christmas will know that its origins were anything but Christian. It represents a compromise in mission – an emasculation of mission, really. When Europe was first being evangelized, the Church failed to insist that the pagans break off all ties with their ancient ways. To throw them a bone, the Church baptized their winter solstice holiday, devoted to idols, and called it Christian. But calling it Christian did not make it Christian. And at the end of the day, paganism cannot be domesticated. It must be converted, and all bridges burnt (Acts 19:18, 19, 1 Thess. 1:9).
With my Christian brothers and sisters, I join them in glorying in the incarnation. With them, I grieve over the religious decline and the syncretism of the day. But I would appeal to them to rethink Christmas. And for that matter, rethink mission.