Have you given up on Christmas? Many Christians have. They have become so frustrated at the way the secular age we live in has converted a Christian “holy day” into a social and commercial “holiday” that sometimes they wish the whole thing would just go away!
What does the Christmas season really mean to our modern society? Merchants look forward to it as the time when they will collect at least half of their profits for the entire year. Shoppers, on the other hand, often dread it, knowing they will end up stressed out and frustrated over trying to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list without spending the next five years paying off the credit card bill.
And of course our children are trained from the very beginning of their lives in the true significance of Christmas. They quickly learn that they had better be good, not to please God, but so that Santa won’t disappoint them on Christmas morning. Franklin Graham, son of premier evangelist Billy Graham, sums it up this way. “Christmas is a time,” he says, “when we in North America generally eat too much, spend too much, and drink too much.”
I, too, have often complained, “Isn’t it a shame what the world has done to Christmas!” But recently I have been rethinking that sentiment. One thing that caused me to look at the world’s Christmas from a fresh perspective was when I noticed that not only is Christmas celebrated in the so called “Christian” nations of the western world, but it is also a definite hit in some distinctly non-Christian societies.
In Japan, for example, Christmas is very popular as a secular holiday, including Christmas trees and decorations and the exchanging of gifts. In South Korea Christmas is a public holiday, and non-Christians “sometimes engage in gift-giving, Christmas cards and trees because children enjoy Santa Haraboji or Grandfather Santa, their version of Santa Claus.” Christmas is also a public holiday in places as diverse as Hong Kong, India and even predominately Muslim Malaysia. In fact, people all over the world who have no Christian heritage of their own are now sending Christmas cards and exchanging Christmas gifts because of what the world has done to Christmas.
But what’s the good of that, you might well ask. Just this: I suspect that a sovereign God just might be able to use even the world’s corruption of Christmas to carry the message of the Cross where it might not otherwise gain entrance. Christmas raises issues in secular people’s minds that are rarely raised any other time. For example, Christmas challenges us to be loving, kind and forgiving. It stirs up our desires to be part of a close, intimate, and loving family. But most people eventually realize they cannot reach these ideals on their own. What an opportunity to tell them about the One who is love, and of the Father who invites every human being into His family!
So, maybe Christmas, even as the world celebrates it, isn’t so bad after all. Maybe God can use it to plant values and stir up spiritual needs that can only be fulfilled by the Christ of Christmas. And maybe that makes Christmas just the kind of world-wide evangelistic opportunity we all pray for.