The weeks leading up to Christmas often witness a flurry of activity as believers prepare for the holiday by pursuing a variety of pre-Christmas traditions: shopping for gifts, putting up Christmas trees, and installing a pageantry of lights, nativity scenes, and plastic displays of Santa, reindeer, and snowmen. Many adjust the radio dial to a station that plays Christmas music while others look forward to various Christmas specials that materialize on network television this time of year. Some people even continue the tradition of caroling neighbors and communities, singing songs of joy and glad tidings.
Another tradition in recent years involves Christians vocalizing their hope that retailers, communities, and the public use the term ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’ in greetings and advertising, and refer to office, school, and community gatherings as Christmas parties instead of holiday parties. These efforts are neatly summarized by the popular phrase: ‘put Christ back in Christmas.’ While well intentioned, such endeavors often do more harm than good and risk reinforcing a common misperception about the Christian faith.
Candidly, I’d rather only Christians greet me with ‘Merry Christmas.’ That would make it easier to identify individuals who have never encountered Jesus personally and are unfamiliar with His sacrifice for our sins. How many opportunities would we have to share the good news of Christ’s redemptive love if we allowed the use of ‘Happy Holidays’ to signal a person’s possible need for Jesus?
We should also remember that authentic Christianity exists in the heart -in those who surrender their lives to Jesus and are transformed by the Holy Spirit. They become new creations in Christ the moment they embrace Him as Lord with their whole heart, soul, and mind – not just with words. So when we insist others use ‘Christmas’ instead of ‘holiday’ to describe the season, we risk reducing the essence of Christmas to a few words instead of transformed lives.
Christmas is not about saying ‘Merry Christmas’ when greeting someone or when advertising in the Sunday paper. It is about the birth of a Savior and God’s effort to reconcile sinful mankind with Himself. Sadly, I think some in the church have forgotten that. As a remedy, we ought to read anew the biblical account of Jesus’ birth (found in the second chapters of Matthew and Luke) where we find five important insights about what Christmas really means. If we’re serious about “putting Christ back in Christmas”, we should spend more time applying those lessons in our own lives than trying to get society to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ Here’s a brief breakdown of all five.
1] Worship Jesus. More than anything else, Christmas is about worshipping our Savior, Jesus Christ. The wise men provided the ideal model for us to follow. They sought out Jesus and, upon finding Him, “fell down and worshiped Him” (Matthew 2:11, NKJV). They didn’t allow their social status or economic resources to dictate a more casual encounter with Jesus. They didn’t treat Him as a peer, a future leader, or the small child that He was. Instead, they worshipped Him as King of the Jews and the Blessed Redeemer. Anyone serious about putting Christ back in Christmas should adopt a similar approach. Find somewhere private you can go this Christmas and worship the Living God, and then build it into your daily routine.
2] Rejoice With Great Joy. As they approached Bethlehem, the wise men noticed the star they were following “stood over where the young Child was.” Aware of how near Jesus was, “they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (Matthew 2:10, NKJV). Similarly, the shepherds who visited Jesus shortly after His birth returned home “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20, NKJV). They couldn’t contain their exhilaration at having encountered God in the flesh.
Can you imagine that scene? A group of shepherds traveling a dusty road on their way home, singing praise and lifting shouts of joy to God. Does the presence of Jesus in your life produce a similar response? Are you filled to overflowing with joy and excitement over your relationship with Christ? I hope so. If not, ask Him to stir in your heart the same unbridled enthusiasm for Him that the wise men and shepherds displayed.
3] Give God Your Treasures. Unlike our modern tradition of exchanging gifts with friends and family, the Bible reveals a much different model. We are told that after worshiping Jesus, the wise men “opened their treasures” and “presented gifts to Him” (Matthew 2:11). They did not exchange gifts with one another nor did they look to get anything from Jesus in return. They simply presented their treasures to Jesus unconditionally. And lest we think these wise men offered gifts of little consequence, let’s recall that gold was the first of three treasures mentioned by Matthew in his account.
What treasures do you possess? Those who claim to want Christ back in Christmas ought to be the first ones offering God their treasures – and not the leftovers but the first fruits. Instead of exchanging gifts with loved ones who will return the favor, why not agree to spend your Christmas budget on God: funding a missionary; supporting the distribution of Bibles to unreached people groups; providing food, blankets, and clean water to the destitute; or covering the cost of housing for persecuted Christians displaced from their homes across Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.
4] Proclaim Jesus to Others. If we really believe that ‘Jesus is the Reason for the Season’ – as so many yard signs, bumper stickers, and t-shirts suggest – then we ought to be sharing the powerful, transformative story of Jesus with as many people as possible: friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even strangers. We need look no further than the shepherds for an example. After an angel informed them, “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (vs. 10), they traveled to Bethlehem “with great haste” to see the Messiah with their own eyes.
And what did they do after they encountered Jesus? Scripture tells us, “when they had seen Him, they made known the saying which was told them concerning the Christ” (Luke 2:17, NKJV). They couldn’t keep to themselves the wonderful news they had heard and experienced. They had to tell others, despite the fact they were shepherds and not great orators or theology students. We ought to do the same.
5] Encountering Jesus Requires Sacrifice. While we know very little about the wise men, Scripture does tell us they traveled from the East, presumably from a great distance since they did not arrive until Jesus was a young child. It is likely their journey took months, perhaps more than a year. Similarly, the shepherds left behind their livelihood (the defenseless sheep they tended to) while they journeyed to Bethlehem to see Jesus. It was not convenient for either group nor was it without cost or risk. But both groups deemed an encounter with the Savior worth it.
No doubt there will be activities, demands, and events in your life this season that will distract you from the true meaning of Christmas if you allow them. Left unchecked, they will consume all of your time and before you know it Christmas will be gone and you’ll have missed out on many opportunities to worship Jesus, sing joyful praises to Him, share His story with others, and give your treasures to Him.
Resist the temptation to let those other things dominate your schedule this December. Instead, prioritize your relationship with Jesus and remember that He really is “the reason for the season.” There is no better way to “put Christ back in Christmas” than to put Jesus first in your life!