In many Christian circles, you will hear considerable conversation, from Black Friday until Dec. 25, about the “War on Christmas.” We chatter about “keeping Christ in Christmas,” and taking back our holiday. However, once Dec. 26 rolls around, more often than not, we’re the first to surrender the “Merry Christmas” we demanded from the store clerk two days earlier, in order to replace it with “Happy New Year!”
Christmas is 12 days long, beginning at sundown Dec. 24 and ending on the Feast of the Epiphany, on Jan. 6. So, an important aspect of keeping Christ in Christmas is avoiding a premature conclusion of the season that has been set aside for the celebration of His birth, in lieu of announcing a secular celebration of the beginning of yet another year.
This is all the more important, since Christians celebrate the beginning of a new year with the start of the Advent season. Our new year actually commences around the time of year when we begin expecting the secular world to acknowledge and lend credence to a Christmas proclaimed in a Gospel which we have failed to properly share with that very world.
The Feast of the Epiphany marks an important point in the narrative of Jesus Christ, because it is that moment when the Good News of the Savior’s birth is acknowledged by Gentiles — those who had no reason to expect salvation from the God of Israel. And the Epiphany, found in Matthew’s account of the Gospel (Matt 2:1-12), is an important turning point in God’s saving work among His creation, because it foreshadows the inclusion of all people and nations in the salvation that comes through the Christ Child. It also reminds us of the work we are to be about this time of year.
We cannot expect a world who has not heard and accepted the Good News of the birth of its Savior to proclaim that birth with a “Merry Christmas!” When we as Christians fail to keep Christ throughout the entire season of Christmas, we should not be offended by the world’s failure to acknowledge it at all.
It would be foolish to expect others to keep a Christ they do not know in a Holy Day they do not understand, if we refuse to know and understand them ourselves.
Christ is already in Christmas; all those who bear His name have to do is live into that reality. The Gospel is to be lived by those who have heard and accepted it. Christmas is to be proclaimed by Christians and heard by the world; not the other way around. It would be the pinnacle of arrogance on my part to expect the young woman working the register at the gas station to wish me a “Merry Christmas,” when I have failed to share either of those realities with her.
Epiphany is an opportunity to share the gift of salvation we have received in Christ with others. The entire Christmas season is a chance to proclaim the birth of our Savior to a world in desperate need of salvation. God’s Good Word is to flow through His people, to those in need of that Word. The proclamation of Christ’s birth is a gift we may freely give to others, but may never demand from them.
And so, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!
Rev. Andrew Cruz Lillegard is an associate priest with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.