WHAT DOES CONTEMPORARY CULTURE HAVE against Jesus? Even non-Christians used to pay tribute to the author of the Sermon on the Mount, even as they tried to remake Him in their image. Muslims considered Jesus to be a nondivine prophet. Humanists hailed Him as a nice-guy philanthropist. Left-wing radicals presented Him as a political revolutionary. Today, though, secularists are recoiling at the name of Jesus like Dracula before a crucifix.
Even in the holiday that celebrates His birth, acknowledging Jesus is no longer politically correct. In New York public schools, the symbols of other religions that have holidays around this time-the Jewish menorah for Hanukkah, the Muslim star and crescent for Ramadan- are allowed, but nativity scenes are verboten.
The holiday ritual of the ACLU censoring Christmas carols, mangers, and angels in the name of separation of church and state has created repercussions beyond what may or may not be permissible for the government. Since religious references to Christmas have been deemed by the lawsuits to be "offensive" to followers of other creeds, private businesses are also banning religious displays.
And even individuals seem to think the separation of church and state applies to them, when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Take away all carols and nativity scenes, replace them with snowmen and Santa, but there is still a problem with Christmas that could make it offensive. Its name. "Christ mass." Not only does it name the Christian deity but it makes a direct reference to a Christian worship service. This is not inclusive. It does not respect the feelings of those who follow other religions or no religion. It is intolerant.
So now it has become politically incorrect to call the holiday "Christmas." Notice your Christmas cards. Notice how many of them shy away from the very mention of the word, replacing the traditional greeting "Merry Christmas" with the generic "Happy Holidays."
Now actual alternative names to "Christmas" are showing up, such as "Winter Festival" and "Yule," the term for the old pagan feast co-opted by Christianity, a process being reversed by the emerging new paganism.
Today's squeamishness about the name of Jesus Christ, however, proves something important. In the emerging polytheism of today's new civil religion, Jesus refuses to join the pantheon.
By the standards of today's advocates of interfaith worship, devotion to Jesus is uncomfortably exclusive. And they are right. "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). To a world convinced that every spiritual path leads to God, Jesus says a firm, no, it doesn't: "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). To religious relativists who assume that Jesus is optional when it comes to faith in God, Jesus is quite direct: "Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him" (John 5:23).
Jesus is indeed dangerous. The stone that the builders rejected remains a stumbling block (1 Peter 2:6-8). Is this "offensive"? Jesus Himself is described by Scripture as "a rock of offense" (1 Peter 2:8). And yet, "blessed is the one who is not offended by Me" (Matthew 11:6).
The exclusive claims of Christ can only bring major cognitive dissonance in today's culture. Relativism has become not just a philosophy but an unquestioned assumption. Tolerance is one of the few moral absolutes left, and it has changed its meaning from "tolerating differences" to "denying that there are any."
Contemporary Christians need to realize that they may well feel this cognitive dissonance too. Praying in public is sometimes permitted, but praying in the name of Jesus sometimes makes even pastors feel uncomfortable when non-Christians might be present. Contemporary Christian musicians craft songs that avoid the name of Jesus, so that their purposefully ambiguous lyrics "could be taken either way," applying either to Jesus or to a boyfriend.
Christians can expect to be hated-just as Jesus said they would-for not bending their knees to idols and for being faithful not just to a general idea about Him but to His name.
In the meantime, Christians can find joy in the holiday that, despite everything the world can do, is inextricably linked with His name. Contemporary culture likes Christmas-people like to receive presents and Christmas shopping is a huge boost to the retail economy-but why, they say, does it have to have anything to do with Christ?
The answer is simple: He is the gift. He is the giver. Those who think they can celebrate Christmas without Christ are only going through the motions, clinging to empty forms, yet paying an ironic tribute, against their will, to "the name that is above every name" (Philippians 2:9).