Rev. Paul J Cain is senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Sheridan and a member of Pastors United in Christ.
I’m not automatically offended when a well-meaning person wishes me “happy holidays.” I see it as an opportunity. The response, “What holiday do you mean?” usually catches the person off-guard. When our conversation gets to the stage when I can say that “holidays” is made from the words “holy days,” many people see the point of Christians who passionately assert that Christmas is the holy day we are preparing to celebrate.
We can complain about the secular culture’s war on Christmas until Jesus’ Second Coming. If we really want to keep Christmas, we need to “keep” Christmas in a different way as Christians.
How one used to “keep” a holiday concerns what that person and his family did to observe that holy day set aside by the church for rest and meditation on God’s word, that is, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Some things were permissible on a Sunday, for example, and other activities simply were not. That said, how have we as American Christians “kept” Christmas?
Most Americans claim to be Christian, but are not in church on Sundays. We as Christians can “keep” Christmas year-round — not merely as a good feeling, yearly generosity or simply a focus on family — but when the Christ-child of the manger, the Son of God crucified and risen, is taught in our homes. We keep Christmas when we call upon Him as two or three or more in a household gathered in prayer to Him. And we Christian men show our wife and our children how we submit to Christ when we are there in church to confess, be forgiven, return first fruits to the Lord, and are regular hearers and doers of the word. Jesus rebuked His own people for being hearers of the word only and not doers. It would be a blessing to our families and country if we at least had more hearers of the word than non-hearers.
We Christians have allowed the story of an early Christian pastor named Nicholas to be transformed nearly beyond recognition. Saint Nicholas Day used to be observed Dec. 6, his heavenly birthday, but somehow, his feast was transferred to the 25th (and/or the 24th) of December. Instead of teaching the young how he preached God’s word, resisted a heretic at a church convention and was generous to the poor, American Christians often tell their children about a kindly fellow who “knows when you are sleeping….awake..[and if] you’ve been bad or good,” which turns out to be a not-so-subtle form of works-righteousness. We also lose an incredible teaching opportunity when we have the awkward conversation about someone being “real.” There is nothing wrong with parents giving gifts to their own children out of godly love and generosity. How can we as Christians more faithfully “keep” Christmas? We can focus on Christ and His forgiveness, life and salvation as our greatest gift.
There will always be battles to be fought between the Christian faith and a secular culture. Let us remember this Christmas that the true front lines in the battle for Christmas are in our homes and daily lives as Christians, where Christian parents are given to raise their children in the faith and in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
If we are to keep Christmas as an American holy day, we are given to keep the focus on Christ in our homes, in our daily lives, and at Church all year long. Amen.