Friday, December 16, 2011

What Child Is This: Who is this Kid anyway?

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
I had originally intended to use this series of posts as devotional reflections through a Christmas carol, but as I've been watching comments, posts, and stories make the rounds on Facebook, I've decided to turn at least part of this post in a more polemic direction.
I tend to have two different sets of friends on Facebook. One set is largely composed of people met in undergrad and have recently reconnected with, who tend to be atheist and highly educated (graduate level or higher). This set tends to view Christmas as at best a leftover pagan ritual that Christians adopted and still superstitiously upheld. I will not be dealing with this set of friends here (maybe in a later post, I don't know).

The other set tends to be people that I either knew in high school or have met in grad school in the DC area. This set of friends runs the gamut of education, from high school dropouts to terminal degree holders of various sorts. What unites this set of friends seems to be the believe that a war is being waged on Christmas, if not by President Obama specifically, then at least by liberalism in general. It is to this group that I would like to point out two things:

1) It is very important not to confuse the general hostility of the world to Christianity (which we should fully expect to be the case anyway) with the question of whether or not Congressmen can put "Merry Christmas" in official mailings. The latter is merely a political argument over rituals of state, which we as Christians can in good conscience go either way on.
We absolutely must remember that the world does not hate Christians because we like our society to have December 25 off as a holiday, or because we say "Merry Christmas" instead of the perfectly acceptable "Happy Holidays", or even because we sing along with the month of Christmas carols that somehow ends up starting a week earlier every year. The world hates Christians because the message of Christianity to the world is "you are sinful and deserve to burn forever in hell, and the only way to get out of it is to believe that someone else has already done all the work necessary to save you from it." That is the source of tension, and it happens to be something that runs all year long in every country and even in every person. And that, in turn, leads to the fact that

2) This is not worth our effort or attention. At least, not much of it. Traditionally, Christmas is the time when we remember the Incarnation. We remember that God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. "What child is this" the song asks? "This, this is Christ, the King." The God who we have angered, the God who is our rightful King, whom we have rebelled against, became a man so that He could live the perfect life that you and I and every other person who has ever existed should have lived, and die the sinful death that every one of us deserved to die, so that if we repent of our sins and believe in this good news, that life and that death count as our own and we are made right with God. A great exchange takes place in which all our sin is counted as "paid in full" because of Christ's death on the cross, and all of our life is counted as "perfectly virtuous" because of Christ's life. This message is infinitely more offensive than putting "Merry Christmas" on your Facebook wall, or a nativity scene on a town hall lawn, or even a Ten Commandments display in a courtroom. And spreading this message is worth our effort and attention, every ounce and second of both that we can possibly muster.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I suspect that some of my friends are fighting the wrong battle (however good their intentions might otherwise be). Rather than working to keep the trappings of Christmas from slipping out of mainstream political culture, we should be working to be more offensive by telling people the truth about what Child this is.

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