“The Free Church doesn’t celebrate Christmas”, or so it goes, writes Rev Derek Lamont, Moderator of The Free Church of Scotland. It is a mongrel winter festival of mixed roots that Christians have hijacked to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
I will leave the semantics and arguments to others. The New Testament says very little about these things. But God did make us as people who need to celebrate. Worship is a celebration of God and His Glory. Heaven will be a feast. The Old Testament people of God needed times of rest, festival and jubilee, and the prophets spoke with evocative imagery of blessed future days filled with feasting and drinking to the Glory of God. Every society that ever lived sets aside time for life-affirming celebration – it is in our bones, especially for the cold, dark nights of winter!
It is a beautiful thing to receive gifts – affirming the love of the givers – and it is even more blessed to be able to give gifts – from hearts of love and thankfulness. God is the great gift giver, exemplified most astonishingly in the gift of His Son to a thankless and selfish world.
Needless to say, we have a habit of messing up good things. We make them ultimate. So often, the giving of gifts becomes a chore, driven by slick marketing, the demands of peer pressure and sadly sometimes sheer greed. Our consumerist society has created a monster. People celebrate to excess because they live in the shadow-lands, it is their ultimate – when they are guilty of rejecting the Light of God – but it should never be ours.
Christians, as in all matters of daily life, need to exercise Godly wisdom. It is important not to blindly swallow the excesses of the festive season, nor spend greedily in a world of poverty. We need to teach each other and our children moderation and sensitivity to the reality of inequality, the spiritual warzone we live in, and the vitality of glorifying God in work and play. It is not enough to mimic the world and cover it with a Christian veneer – but joy is ours first, and it is too easy to act the scrooge and deceive the world into thinking that Christianity is for misery guts.
The angels, the shepherds and the wise men worshipped God in response to the birth of the Messiah. With all the blessings of Grace and with a much fuller picture of His remarkable redemptive work, how much more reason do we have to worship and give thanks for the birth of the Christ – any time of year – and give gifts to remind us of the great Divine gift giver. And in a society that baulks at the idea of coming to church at all, if they will come and hear the gospel preached at Christmas time – when we can disabuse them of mere sentiment and plead with them to consider the crucified and risen Saviour and the claim He makes on their lives – then it is simply an opportunity too good to miss.
• Full story at the Free Church of Scotland.