Think of the Christmas classics that have warmed our hearts for decades.
How much of Christ is there in It's a Wonderful Life? It's my favorite movie. But there's no mention of Jesus' birth in it, except for the incessant rehearsal of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by one of George Bailey's daughters.
The only mention of Jesus in The Bishop's Wife comes at the end, during the bishop's Christmas Eve sermon, when he holds Jesus up, not as the Savior of the world, but as an example of good living.
Most of the Christmas Classics--from How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Polar Express, from A Christmas Carol to Christmas in Connecticut--have nothing to do with Christmas.
They're wonderful, heart-warming stories. But they're not about Christ at all.
The media, advertisers, and the retailers have always loved turning the Feast of Christ's Nativity into a festival of winter sentimentality and materialism. It sells. And it's less controversial. (The rare exception being, A Charlie Brown Christmas, among others.)
So, why the laments? The culture's Christ-less Christmas is nothing new. We Christians need to get over it.
Many of the Christian laments and groanings are rooted in a more basic problem: We Christians are terrible about passing our faith along to others in our personal relationships. For decades, Christians have relied on the culture (or the preacher or the Sunday School class) to pass along the truth that God came into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ, took our rightful death sentence for sin, and rose from the dead so that all who turn from sin (repent) and believe in Him as their only God and King, have life with God, imperfectly in this imperfect world and perfectly in the perfect world to come.
We can't trust the culture to share that message. It's not the job of moviemakers, toy manufacturers, or Macy's. It's someone else's job altogether.
In today's installment of Our Daily Bread, we're reminded of God's instructions to His people, Israel, delivered through Moses, just before Israel entered the Promised Land. God gave His people what's become know as the Shema:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)A relationship with God is passed on person to person: parent to child, child to parent, friend to friend, co-worker to co-worker, neighbor to neighbor, classmate to classmate.
We can't rely on a culture that isn't so much antagonistic to Christian faith as it is, as it always has been, indifferent to Christian faith, to pass it on to our neighbors and friends.
People do not come to faith in Christ by cultural osmosis. It's passed on from one flesh and blood human being who believes in Christ to another flesh and blood human being.
That's why, writing decades after Jesus' resurrection, the apostle Peter told Christians living in what is today called Turkey:
...be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)As a Christian, I believe that everyone who calls out in faith to the God revealed in Jesus Christ will be saved. But, as Paul writes at another place in the New Testament:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)Paul wasn't talking about professional preachers proclaiming the Good News of new and everlasting life for all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
He was talking about every Christian, in their sitting at home, in their walking along the road, in the morning and in the evening, being ready to do things like...
- offer to pray for others to the God with whom they have intimacy through Christ;
- offer to help them when they need child care or a lift to work;
- serve meals to homeless people;
- be considerate of those others disrespect;
You might earn that right with something as simple as telling the clerk at the store, "Merry Christmas" or "God bless you" during this Advent season.
Jesus isn't relying on the culture to share His gospel with the world. He's relying on people who follow Him to do that.
Christians, that's us. Will we do it?