There has been a lot of hay thrown around Christmas and whether it should be called Christmas or whatever. I’m not one of those people who get offended by people who don’t agree with me, so frankly, I don’t care. But I do care when people try to tell me how to celebrate my holidays.
For starters, if saying “Merry Christmas” offends you, that’s your problem, not mine. Go talk to your therapist. But don’t pretend I’m evil because I want to share with you the joy of the Christmas season.
Secondly, the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from religion. No one is free from religion. We are free to believe what we choose to believe. And read it carefully: The first amendment says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, meaning a church. Christianity is not a church. So Congress and the president are free to tell you Christ is rad and Satan sucks. And you can’t stop them.
Thirdly, I know that Christmas is a made-up holiday and related to some pagan ritual. I get that. What I think you are missing is why that’s important. See, when the Christians took over Europe, they didn’t do it by waving scimitars above their head and shouting “Jesus is Awesome!” No, the mass conversions happened as lowly monks would move into a town and start helping people. And when people asked why they were so nice they would say “Because Jesus told me to be nice”. And they’d ask who Jesus was and so the monk would try to explain it in ways that they could understand. So Christians took the symbols and holidays that the pagans celebrated and converted them to Christianity and in so doing converted people to Christianity. This is how over the span of a few hundred years there were no Christians in Europe to practically everyone being Christian. Yes, there were wars and fighting and raids and all kinds of nastiness in between, but at the end of the day, it was a quiet man who showed people who Christ was and explained it in terms they could understand that changed hearts and minds.
So let me tell you what Christmas is all about, or rather, what Christ is all about, using the pagan holiday we call Christmas.
Christmas is all about presents. It’s about what you can buy with your money, but not just for yourself. The ultimate goal is to find someone you care about and to get them something they want or need so you can get warm fuzzies that make you feel good, and they can get warm fuzzies and we can all have warm fuzzies because we know that there’s someone out there who cares for us.
Let me tell you about the best Christmas present ever. See, God is far away from us. (Let’s not focus on why he’s far away from us, just accept the fact that you probably haven’t spoken to him for a long time.) But God really, really cares about you. He created an entire universe just for you, and an earth, and he put people on the earth and told them to be nice to each other and have children and that’s where you came from.
But God wants to really explain his love for you in a way you can understand, and so he gave us Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ didn’t come to earth to rule. He wasn’t born a prince like you would normally think of a prince. He was born in a manger. That’s where you feed animals. His mother and father weren’t poor but they weren’t rich either. And Jesus grew up amid all sorts of problems. For instance, when he was very young the king sent out soldiers to kill all the children his age. But Jesus didn’t let that phase him. He had a job to do: He had to show people what God really thought about them. And so, when he was old enough, he started ministering to the people. That means he helped the poor and the sick. He healed many people. He raised some people from the dead. But most especially he taught people how they should act. He took the Law of Moses, a strict set of commandments about who you should kill and for what, and showed how it was really a message of hope and love. When the pious Pharisees brought a woman they had caught in the very act of adultery to be condemned by the law to death, he defended her and when her accusers had left he told her to go her way and sin no more. That was it.
At the end of his life, he was tried for rebellion and blasphemy. Blasphemy means he spoke against God or rather pretended to speak for God even though he had no such authority. He was found guilty of both counts by a kangaroo courts made up to the elite in society, and even though the king offered to be merciful to Jesus because he could find nothing wrong, the people demanded he be crucified. So the king, rather than sticking up for what is right, relented. He was failed by government, by the king, by the councils, by the people, and so he was sentenced to die by crucifixion. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. They would hang you from a cross until you didn’t have the strength to breath anymore and you suffocated. Or, if they were especially cruel, they would drive nails into the palms of your hands and into your wrists and hang you that way. People who were crucified would hang for days on the cross before they would die. Thank God that there is no culture that practices this anymore.
Jesus, while hanging on the cross, begged forgiveness for his persecutors because they were acting in ignorance. He pleaded for one of his disciples to look after his mother. And then he put his spirit into the hands of God, and he died. They buried him in a sepulchre where he laid for three days. See, he died on a a Friday and on Saturday the Jews celebrated the Sabbath so they could not do any work. On Sunday morning, his disciples came back to finish preparing his body with herbs and ointments but there were angels there, declaring that Christ was not dead by living. In a miraculous event, his body and spirit were reunited in perfect form. He spent quite a while with his disciples but in the end, he had to ascend to heaven. As he ascended, angels proclaimed that in the same way he went up, he would return one day.
The message that Christ shared with the world, the gift that his life and his sacrifice were, are simply this. God loves you, so much that he sent his Son. And his Son didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. All Christ asks is that we put our trust in Him, turn away from our sins, and try to live better each and every day. If we can simply manage that, he promises us a position on his throne, the very throne of God, to be heirs to God like him.
So as you buy that gift for your friend or acquaintance of loved one, think of the gift that was bought for you with the life blood of God’s own son. Think of how you feel about that person you are sharing that gift with, and then consider how God feels about you. And as you receive a gift, think about how you feel if you simply accept the gift, and how good it must feel to accept such a wonderful gift such as Christ that is freely given.
So when I say “Merry Christmas”, I am telling you the good news. This is not the end. You can change. We can all change. And the most important thing is that we love one another.