Our increasingly secular culture has a difficult time finding a way to recognize important Christian celebrations. This seems to be particularly true in the Northwest. When our daughter Rebekah was in high school, she sang in the Newberg High School choir. As part of its annual program, the choir sang in the well-recognized and beautiful Catholic sanctuary, The Grotto (pictured below). Although a deeply religious place, the students sang both secular and sacred songs and appeared to enjoy the connection between music and the celebration of the Christmas season. One did not have to be a Christian believer to enjoy the music and its connection to a clearly Christian holiday.
As you may know, this year the Portland Public Schools decided that its choirs could no longer sing in sacred spaces as a part of the celebration of Christmas. At the same time, the Seattle-based Starbucks corporation made the decision to issue a plain red cup for the holidays instead of one that would include a variety of different symbols of Christmas.
As I reflected on these recent controversies, I became convinced that the surrounding culture’s perspective on the meaning of Christmas is not relevant to our celebration of Christ’s birth. It is frustrating for sure when Western culture rejects Christian understandings, but this is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps more important, Christians have always attached meaning and significance to symbols they found around them.
For instance, the holly, with its thorny leaves and bright red berries, was one of the plants that survived the winter in Europe. As European Christians from ages ago prepared for the celebration of Christ’s birth, the holly was a living reminder of Christ: the crown of thorns and the blood that was given to bring life to humanity. We are not dependent on what culture chooses to do with our holidays and celebrations. Our challenge is to consistently provide testimony to the living God. Thus, even a plain red cup provides more opportunity to talk about the Christ of Christmas than one decorated with a sleigh!
Christmas extols the Incarnation! For unto us, a child is born! Living under the oppression of the Nazi system in Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer found great hope in the celebration of the Christ child …
“For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught.”
– From God is in the Manger
May the presence of God’s Son be particularly real to you this Christmas.