On Secularism and the True Meaning of Christmas.
I don’t mind the secularization of Christmas. As United States culture trends increasingly secular, it makes sense that holiday traditions would become more so as well. In fact, the greater distinctions we draw between true aspects of Christianity and cultural traditions, the better we will be able to articulate the truth of Christ. What do we gain, after all, from forcing holiday traditions to be labeled as “Christmas?” Is someone that calls their tree a “Christmas Tree” closer to knowing Christ than one that calls it a “Holiday Tree?” For the Christian, little of our Christmas traditions have anything to do with Christianity. There are only two aspects of a Christian celebration of Christmas that are unique to Christianity; these are the distinctions to which we should cling.
The Birth of a Savior
Many would agree that the true meaning of Christmas is Jesus, but the Christian understanding is more nuanced. We don’t celebrate the birth of a religious founder or a great teacher. We celebrate the birth of God incarnate, the eternal God become flesh. It’s not that Jesus was born, it’s that Christ was born. And Christ is not only the Savior, He is the Son of God, wholly human, wholly divine. We celebrate the incarnate God, the Savior come for the redemption of humanity.
The Reason for the Season
We think that the season is Christmastime, but there’s an actual Christian season that encompasses Christmas: Advent.1 Advent is a time of expectant preparation for the second coming of Christ. Christmas is the holiday and Advent is the season. During this time we remember the first coming of Christ and look forward to His return. It’s easy for us to forget or ignore this crucial part of Christian theology. It sounds too far fetched, too fantastical, but it’s an integral part of Christianity. Jesus talked about it,2 Paul talked about it,3 Peter talked about it,4 and John certainly talked about it.5 And if God became man, is this any more fantastical than that? For the Christian, the reason for the season is not strictly that Christ has come, but that He is also coming again.6
That God became flesh, was born and walked among us, and that He’s coming again, these are the Christian celebrations in Christmas. Christmas traditions either point to these concepts or they don’t, and if they don’t they’re not Christian traditions, they are cultural traditions. Cultural traditions aren’t bad; we can certainly enjoy them, but there’s no need to fight for them as part of the meaning of Christmas. We hold on to the birth of Christ and His second coming, secular culture can do what it wants with the rest.
- Actually, there is a liturgical season of Christmastide, but it doesn’t start until Christmas Eve. Culturally, most of our Christmas season is concurrent with Advent ↩
- Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21:5-36 ↩
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3, 2 Timothy 3:1-9 ↩
- 2 Peter 3 ↩
- Revelation, anyone? ↩
- Amen. Come, Lord Jesus ↩