How can the church confuse the Christmas message? Isn't it the secular world with its emphasis on spending and consumption, on parties and secular images the one confusing the Christmas message? We try so hard to make sure everyone knows "Jesus is the Reason for the Season!"
Isn't confusion over the meaning of Christmas a secular issue?
Not really. In many ways, the secular world no longer confuses the true meaning of Christmas. In the past it seemed that there was a sometimes uncomfortable mixture between the birth of Jesus and Santa—currently, almost every trace of Jesus has been erased in secular presentations of Christmas. In the various programs on TV this year, it seemed like the overarching themes had to do with "family" (commendable, but important all year) and something often referred to as "Christmas magic."
The secular world is quite clear that it wants nothing to do with Jesus at Christmas and there is little confusion about that.
Sadly, confusion about Jesus is often found in the church at Christmas though we certainly don't do it intentionally. The following are some thoughts to make sure that we are communicating the message we think we are communicating.
Our use of Christmas images
What can be wrong with that? The manger scene in front of the church or inside? Angels on the bulletins? All of the familiar and favorite images of shepherds and stars?
Please consider carefully that it is not the use of images that can cause confusion, but images without words that explain their meaning can be confusing. It is extraordinarily difficult for those of us who grew up in the church to imagine how someone who grew up completely without Christian teaching views the holidays. But here are some popular Christmas images and how people who did not grow up in the church might view them:
A star? That is the logo for Macy's for many people and is a reminder of "christmas magic." Stars are magic at any time for many people and that could be a great conversation opener to talk about the Three Wise Men, who followed a star unlike any they had seen before.
The manger scene? Maybe something about a myth or some religious history if they know the story at all, but why the birth of Jesus matters at all is most certainly not something most secular people are aware of. Who the various characters are in the manger scene, why there anyway? Some people outside the church know that they have caused lawsuits, but they may have no understanding why.
Angels? Well, most everybody believes in angels today, so why were they anything special at Christmas?
Our challenge is to use words to EXPLAIN what we mean by our images.
If we don't use words to do that, our images alone can either have a meaning we do not intend or they will not be effective in communicating the message we want to share.
Explaining popular images can also provide a link to discussing the importance of them and the meaning of Jesus' birth.
It can also be a time to talk about the historical reality of Jesus. Though many miraculous things happened at his birth, God came into history in a specific time, in a real location—it isn't a fairy tale we celebrate, but a true historical event.
APPLICATION: Please explain Christmas
Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins, to fulfill the centuries of God's promises, to give us a life of meaning and purpose now and eternal joy—it is a message too wonderful to be contained in human images or words—but we should do the best we can.
Please explain the meaning of Christmas and give people ways to explore the Christmas message at every Christmas event you hold. It isn't enough to give people nice feelings and pretty images, we must give them the complete story for the true meaning of Christmas to be shared in your church.
As you go over the last-minute preparations for your Christmas services, ask the Lord to give you insight and understanding so you can see your message through the eyes of a family member who may have never been to church or a stranger who wanders in for the promise of free hot chocolate and cookies. Ask for wisdom to explain things so completely that even the person whose heart is very far away will come to know Jesus.