Christmas is a season many people look forward to all year. On December 26 social media is filled with posts stating there are only 364 days left until next Christmas. For children, Christmas expectations include school holidays, Santa Claus and presents. For adults, Christmas is associated with family and friends, good cheer, joy and peace on earth. That leaves me pondering why Christians are therefore so frumpy every Christmas season. It appears that more Christians are melancholy and exhausted than joyful and refreshed. Could it be that God uses Christmas and the blues that often come with it so Christians will be given an opportunity to do some self-evaluating each year?
So take a moment and evaluate your Christianity this Christmas season. Are you thankful or depressed? Are you angry or filled with joy? Do you love people or are you weary and avoiding others? Does the Christmas season make your heart even more full of Christ or does it leave you feeling empty? Be honest now! Perhaps you can be more honest by answering those questions this way: how do your actions regarding Christ match up with joy in Jesus? If you only sporadically attend church to worship with other believers, if you are avoiding relationships with other believers, and if there is no joy in doing for others at Christmas you are probably not doing as well spiritually in your heart as you try to convince yourself you are.
Indeed, we live in a dark time. Taxes and health insurance are consuming more and more of our salaries. Politicians and leaders are often corrupt and unrighteous. Relationships can be treacherous. Families deal with hurts and pain. Jobs are demanding and toiling. II Timothy 3 paints a dismal picture of these last days we live in, saying many people will become “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (II Timothy 3:1-2) Verse 5 says we are to avoid people characterized by these traits, and yet I don’t see many Christians who prioritize bringing their children and families up around God-fearing and God-shining believers. Rather, we pour our time, energy and efforts into the secular culture, activities and lost world around us. But in the midst of these dark last-days characteristics is one last phrase. It says people will be “holding to a form of godliness but denying its power.” (Vs. 3) In that phrase lies one of Satan’s top strategies against believers. It is Christians to be associated with church, committed to being good and acknowledging God while denying the very power of Christ and His kingdom in us!
I confess that keeping “a form of godliness” is a temptation I must continually ask for God’s grace to recognize and resist. I have been in ministry 35 years. I am very familiar with church. I love God. I know how to “be nice” and exhibit a “form of godliness.” But it takes the Holy Spirit to make me a disciple of Jesus Christ that lives radically for Him and bears fruit. The power of Christ in me makes me spiritually dangerous to Satan and his plans rather than sweet yet harmless. The power of Christ makes me bold in proclaiming Christ and His salvation rather than simply being nice and fretting over a chance to mention our church. The power of Christ provides spiritual authority rather than causing me to embrace thoughts of gloom and being a victim. The power of Christ leads to bold and life-altering continual worship rather than to prioritize other things and a lifeless praise to Christ. Too many of us have accepted a “form of godliness” rather than tirelessly pursuing a radical expectation of the power of Christ and His kingdom in and through us.
So how does that fit into Christmas? The Christmas season reveals the condition of our hearts spiritually if we will honestly evaluate our emotional, relational and mental condition. It is time that we quit pointing our judgmental fingers at society because they say “Happy Holiday” or sell cards that say “Merry Xmas.” Society often perceives and relates to Christ and Christmas in the same way it perceives Christians. If we are “holding to a form of godliness but denying its power” then the world and the lost are given no reason, example or purpose in pursuing or understanding the higher meaning of Christmas and the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I am guilty! I suspect every American Christian with our entitled living, our wealth, our pursuit of pleasures and personal happiness, and our independent, self-made attitudes is guilty to some degree as well. But I am aware of it and am fighting it with all my heart. That is a great place to start. I pray and acknowledge my need daily. In my weakness I am being made strong. In my suffering I find and praise God’s glory. And this Christmas season I am filled with an awe and joy in my Lord that far surpasses the sufferings and difficulties of this dying world.
Christians, Christ and Christmas! Saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” won’t change my melancholy, my thoughts, my attitudes, my actions or my spiritual impact! But seeking, trusting and walking near to Jesus and all His power through the Holy Spirit allows me to experience the true joy of Christmas, and to proclaim to the world around me “the Christ of Christmas!”