I’m not sure if every pastor out there gets the same questions I do, but one that seems to come up pretty regularly this time of year is all about Christmas. I’ve never said much about it from the pulpit, I don’t have any great books or resources to turn anyone to except for a few short articles here or there, so I decided to write about it at length and answer various ideas that tend to come up in the conversation. Since it’s quite lengthy, I will do several posts. My desire is to offer balance, but to be gracious and fair to those who do not share my position. I can’t imagine there is an argument that exists that I haven’t heard or read about by now regarding Christmas, so feel free to comment, but please don’t be offended if I tell you, “It’s coming in another post…” or, “I hear ya… thanks for commenting.” So with that said, on with part 1 (and by the way, these are my opinions, not necessarily Alford’s… he used to live in Seattle and probably drank the water, so it’s hard to say what he might think…).
’Tis the season… or is it? Every year it seems the battle intensifies among evangelical Christians when considering what Christmas is all about. How much should we be involved? Is it something we should celebrate at all? How does the history of Christmas and its traditions influence our participation? Should Christmas be a consideration in our corporate worship gatherings? Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, presents and cookies – Can we make sense of it all?
On Dangers and Ditches
Almost every issue in the church has its extremes, and Christmas is certainly one of them. In a sincere attempt to keep the faithful Christian car on the road, we sometimes veer off into a ditch and wonder why others aren’t following us. I’ve certainly been in my fair share of ditches, and the danger always exists that I will soon find another. After all, I’m a fallible man with a constant need to check my heart against God’s Word, and to allow the people of God to speak wisdom and correction into my life so that I don’t find myself in need of a tow truck. And while I don’t expect anyone to assume I am the great evangelical GPS, I have certainly seen the ditches on both sides of this issue and think I might have something to offer after years of research, discussions with wiser men than I, and biblical argumentation that encourages careful discernment and care with an eye toward God’s glory and the enjoyment of His great gifts.
In my experience, I have seen two primary ditches among Christians when it comes to Christmas celebration:
1. Wholesale Purchase
I find it somewhat odd that many Christians never consider the compatibility (or lack thereof) of various cultural traditions with Christianity. Most significantly, I am troubled by unquestioned materialistic over-spending for gifts, images of Christ, and the embrace of a cultural myth called Santa Claus.
Being a Good Steward
I love giving good gifts to my daughters. Jesus recognized this as a basic human reality (cf. Matthew 7:11) and did not condemn it as a practice. However, the Bible repeatedly calls the people of God to faithfully steward what God has provided, not as reckless materialists, but as responsible money managers. The Christmas temptation is to make sure we buy a gift for every person, to get them exactly what they want, and to spare no expense whenever possible to ensure everyone is happy on Christmas morning. The result is months of credit card debt, decreased giving to God’s church, and increased anxiety and burden. Christmas in America is buried in consumerism and has become a search for meaning in all the wrong places. We don’t need more stuff. We need to learn how to see and use the stuff we already have in a way that makes us thankful for God’s provision and care over His children. Buying and giving gifts is certainly not a sin, but going into massive debt to do so is (Romans 13:8). And if you’re still wondering whether or not America has a materialism problem, just spend a few minutes on the internet searching videos and articles about Black Friday. When people die in consumeristic stampedes, there’s little question that loving one’s neighbor isn’t at the top of the priority list.
Images of Christ
While Christians often debate this issue, I am convinced that the 2nd commandment forbids the making of images of Christ in every respect. I oppose the ikons of Eastern Orthodoxy depicting the members of the Trinity, and just as strongly oppose the myriad of attempts at depicting Jesus in art of various forms (film, paintings, sculptures, crucifixes, etc.). God has said quite categorically, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). So the nativity scenes of Christmas depicting Jesus as a baby are a violation of the 2nd commandment, and while well intentioned, should not be displayed by Christians. 
What’s so bad about Old Saint Nick? Whether we like it or not, cultural myths play an important role in society telling a story about people and their beliefs. However, while it’s good to know the myths of a culture, embracing those myths and propagating them as true myths is another issue altogether. Santa Claus has become the central figure in a false gospel of works that promises rewards from a deified fat man and his magical reindeer. He knows when you are sleeping and awake? Is Santa omniscient? He delivers presents throughout the entire world in one evening? Is Santa omnipresent? He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so you better be good? Is Santa the great rewarder of good behavior and the punisher of evil?
I think it is important to cultivate the imaginations of my children, but telling them a story and insisting on its truth about that which is clearly supernatural is setting them up to disbelieve what I tell them about God. In other words, if the story about Santa turns out to be false after they believed so strongly it was true, what should they think about the story of Jesus? If Santa doesn’t exist and isn’t omniscient and omnipresent, why should my child think God is? If I can get everything I want once each year by just “being good” why do I need grace? The myth of Santa Claus undercuts the gospel and serves to create false categories in the minds of children. The bottom line is, parents shouldn’t lie to their children, no matter how sincere the attempt at fun.
2. Christmas is Sin
While in the minority, there are Christians who not only reject the celebration of Christmas in their own families, but go further to insist that those who do celebrate Christmas are in sin. To condemn Christmas celebration as wholesale sin is troubling on many levels, the most significant being the binding of conscience and the removal of Christian liberty regarding matters to which the Bible does not speak directly. Opponents of Christmas will often argue from cultural and religious history to make their point, and thoughtful Christians will even seek to provide biblical warrant for their outright rejection. However, in any matter of life that is not explicitly condemned or endorsed by Scripture, an argument may be made from good and necessary consequence. If the argument from good and necessary consequence is unconvincing, often because it relies upon Scriptures and principles taken out of their proper context, the issue becomes a matter of Christian liberty and individual conscience.
I am convinced that while opponents of Christmas raise necessary and important questions for our consideration, their conclusions often serve to bind the consciences of Christians, rob Christians of their God-given liberty, are filled with logical fallacies, and rely upon historical anachronism. Nevertheless, the questions that are raised deserve answers, and it is to those questions we will turn in the next post.
(By: Nick Kennicott)
1. I am not unaware of the nuanced discussion among Christians regarding the 2nd Commandment, yet I am unconvinced of the arguments for appropriate images of God. I strongly encourage the reading of J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 20th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Chapter 4.