I AM HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT MY "LET the dead bury their own dead" Christmas attitude. Last year's essay took a swipe at rich people gifting other rich people. Immediately thereafter, lavish expressions of seasonal love came flooding my way-from people who either don't read WORLD or who forgave me.
A C.S. Lewis Christmas anecdote: "My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, 'Oh Lor! They bring religion into everything. Look-they're dragging it even into Christmas now!'" (Letters to an American Lady).
I understand that there are churches that do Christmas to the hilt, and there are others that religiously ignore it, bending over backward not to do anything different on Dec. 25 than Dec. 26 or the second Tuesday in July. Between the polarizing extremes of human conviction, one can often count on God coming up with a third way that we will all find breathtakingly simple when it is revealed on Judgment Day.
This Christmas curmudgeon, who by temperament hates shopping malls and experiences the four weeks after Thanksgiving as a tightening vise, has come to a via media between rejecting Christmas entirely (they tell us it would wreck the retail economy) and a whole-hog embrace. This proceeds from the sobering realization that the strands of Christmas, like the holiday wreath, are by now so twisted together, the good with the bad, that to uproot one would be to injure all. (The servants asked the man who had planted good seed in his field if they should pull up the weeds the enemy had sown. "No," he replied, "lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them" [Matthew 13:28-29].)
What are the strands worth saving, and pruning?
Since in all matters it is prudent to consider the degree to which humor shapes opinion-in John Frame's terms, how the "existential" colors the "normative"-I took my tirade to a more sanguine friend for her perspective (she loves God and loves malls). Together we decided that like it or not, we're stuck with Christmas. A wise man deals with reality as he finds it. A wise man finds a way to take the givens of culture and turn them to advantage for the kingdom of God. Do the Athenians have a statue to an unknown God? Fine, let's talk about it. Do Americans have a tradition of celebration toward the end of the calendar year? Fine, let's see what we can do with this raw material.
Folks who haven't darkened a church door in years get warm and fuzzy about playing Christmas carols in December. Good. Play those carols round the clock, saturate the airways, take back in free air time the publicity for the gospel that the courts are taking away with the other hand as they nit-pick the Pledge of Allegiance and yank Ten Commandments plaques from judges' offices. You say they like "Silent Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" only for the tunes and not the words? So what? They get the lyrics free whether they would or not. Let it get under their skin: "Christ the Savior is born," "to save us all from Satan's pow'r when we were gone astray, O tidings of comfort and joy."
Pauline strategy: "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time" (Colossians 4:5). Make a list of people who would find you weird if you did something nice for them any other time of the year but would find it culturally acceptable in the happy bubble of the Xmas season. Invite your next-door neighbor, whom you've only waved to from the driveway for 12 months, out to breakfast at the local diner where you can catch up with her life. If you happen to drop your testimony, she's not likely to push away her ham and eggs and walk out.
Brainstorm Christmas like D-Day. Sometimes a failure to do Christmas right is just a failure of imagination. Ask WWJD questions of yourself and your Christian friends. Find out what "be all things to all men" means. Repent of not believing that the gospel (the Son of God born in a manger, dead for sinners, risen for our salvation) is "the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18) that pierces crass commercialism. End your Christmas essay a la Joel Belz and solicit creative suggestions from a couple hundred thousand readers. See what turns up in the Christmas mailbag.