Monday 24 November 2014

Christians should seek a sensible approach to Christmas

Sometimes I get asked what my view of Christmas is, as a Christian minister. How would you answer such a question? My answer is that I have a sensible approach to Christmas. You may or may not agree with me, but at least you may find some things helpful in this blog post. It is clear, I am sure for any committed Christian to agree that the current "state of play" regarding the world's view of Christmas is one that is unacceptable. For the world it is a time for drunkenness, self-indulgence, TV, parties and such like, not least an excessive degree of materialism. It is the fruit of a society lost in sin, one that has lost its spiritual bearings, so it becomes an opportunity to sin ever more excessively. The original purpose of Christmas and the coming of Jesus to save sinners is lost by them, somewhat deliberately. In fact many Muslims openly object to any Christian emphasis in schools and secular head teachers are often very willing to remove such religious ideas with their secular worldview.

John the apostle gives us a clear warning in 1 John 2:15-17 "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever".

Therefore, Christians need to guard against being swept away with excessive materialism and worldliness at this time of the year and we must not "dance to the world's drumbeat" of revelry. However, should we as Christians reject Christmas outright, as some assert a so-called Pagan festival? Well I can respect Christians who may take such a view, one of simplicity without Christmas, but we must recognise the realm of conscience for all Christians. Paul the apostle had to handle matters of conscience in the church and we can read what he says in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. To one Christian, the notion of Christmas and its meaning may be fine to another it is not needed. Both camps need to respect one another's conscience.

We must not forget the worldwide unity of the church of which we are part of. Christians around the world have sought to emphasise two key redemptive truths in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the incarnation and the death of Jesus upon the cross. From the third/fourth century the church have chosen to celebrate what is now Christmas as the time to emphasise the incarnation and Easter for the cross. We do not know when Jesus was born in Bethlehem but the coming into the world of the only-begotten Son is a marvellous wonder. The Apostles Creed reminds us: "I believe in the one, holy catholic [universal) and apostolic church".

Despite the worldliness of our Western culture, I am content to join with other Christians around the world to emphasise (I choose this word rather than celebrate) the incarnation. Sometimes people appeal to the Puritans to denounce any association with such things as Christmas. However, this is poorly researched historically. The Westminster divines were not necessarily opposed to Christmas, indeed men such as Rev. Stanley Gower (former minister of Hill Top Chapel and a Westminster divine) would break their normal sermon series to preach topical sermons at times such as Christmas.

My position is hopefully a sensible one, whereby I think it is appropriate to sing certain hymns that magnify the incarnation of Jesus and preach some sermons to teach the joy of the coming of Christ Jesus into the world. As far as nativity plays in the church, I do not see that these are to form part of our worship. I do maintain that we should joyfully emphasise the upholding of the Lord's Day as a biblical command at all times of the year and that Christians should delight in the Sabbath weekly (Isaiah 58:13-14). A downgrade on the Sabbath can sometimes lead to adopting the church calendar instead of the weekly Lord's Day with two church services.

In closing, let us think of the joy of heaven at the coming of the Son to save sinners from the Gospel of Luke, 2:12-14: "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”.

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