Article Dec 18, 2015

The real war on Christmas

There is a war on Christmas. But it has nothing to do with whether or not retail cashiers say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” It does not have anything to do with Christmas slogans printed on cups or whether there are Christmas trees at the courthouse or not.

The problem is that we often think the battle we face is defending our right to experience cultural Christmas sentimentality. Sentimentality is a feeling, a mood, it is not something for which we have to sacrifice or suffer. It is something that we expect others to provide for us.

The real war on Christmas is that too many of us do not think Christmas is war.

John's Gospel does not focus so much on what happened when Jesus was born but what it means. John does not begin his account in Galilee but in eternity past. John portrays Jesus as the decisive turning point in a great cosmic spiritual war. The conflict began, “In the beginning,” when the serpent in the Garden of Eden questioned the word of God, and Adam and Eve obeyed his voice. God’s response to the fall into sin was the gospel promise of seed born of woman who would crush the head of the serpent and his parasitic kingdom (Gen. 3:15).

When John begins his gospel account, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), he is unmistakably marking Jesus, the uncreated Creator, as the agent of new creation. The decisive Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” was the fulfillment of all the previous prophetic words of God in the Old Testament (John 1:14; Heb. 1:1-2). A new creation is needed because the old created order is fallen and in rebellion against the Creator. Just like the original creation, the new creation brings "life" (John 1:4) and "light" (John 1:5-6). John uses the language of warfare to declare, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome [seized] it” (John 1:5).

Jesus is “the true light, which gives light to everyone” but “the world did not know him” and “his own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-10). The Gospel writer also notes that John the baptizer came to “bear witness about the light” (John 1:9), which means John began his gospel in eternity past, before the created order, and now he points to a particular historical period around AD 29 when the events were unfolding. When Jesus the Word was born and “dwelt [tabernacled] among us” (John 1:14), he fulfilled all to which the tabernacle and its sacrificial system pointed.

Jesus did not simply bring revelation from God; he is revelation. Jesus did not simply bring truth; he is truth. Jesus did not simply bring a way of grace; he is the way. The incarnation of Christ is not sentimentality—this is war. The only hope for every person in the world is the new creation ushered in by the incarnate Christ. He brought a new Messianic age with a new covenant; he was the new and ultimate Adam, temple, prophet, priest and king. Christmas is the decisive answer to the first gospel promise (Gen. 3:15) and is an eschatological blast of the trumpet in the battle plan of the kingdom of Christ. Without what we celebrate at Christmas, there is only creation chaos, spiritual death and darkness, and a global spiritual orphan crisis.

Because Christ came, we have “the right to become children of God” if we receive him and believe in his name (John 1:12). This spiritual adoption in Christ is characterized as a new birth, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). In the incarnate Christ, who came to be crucified and subsequently resurrected, we see sovereign grace, eternal truth, and the glory of God.

Inasmuch as we are faithful witnesses who testify to the true light of the world, we engage in the warfare of Christmas.

But if we ignore the real battlefield and act as though we are called to defend cultural Christmas sentimentality, we have declared war on Christmas.

On a recent trip to Israel, I met an evangelical Arab Christian, who serves at an evangelical college right in the heart of Bethlehem—the birthplace of Christ. It is a difficult life for Palestinian Christians who live under Israeli occupation in a primarily Muslim community that is full of tension and violence. The seminary professor leaned over to me and said, “Do you see that man over there? I said, “Yes.” He said, “His name is Jihad. His family is Muslim, but he is a Christian.” The professor laughed and said, “You ought to see him try to get through customs at the airport!”

Think about that, an Arab man living in Bethlehem, with a Muslim family, living in a Muslim community, under Israeli occupation, whose name is Jihad, who is a faithful Christian. That did not happen because of sentimentality; it is the result of gospel triumph in spiritual war. All I can think to say in response is Merry Christmas.

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