“History is always written by the winners.” Like it or not, December 25th hasn’t always been about the birth of Jesus Christ. Before the Lord was born- and in fact, for centuries afterwards- the wintry day was most commonly identified with Saturnalia, a sprawling, brawling, wine-soaked Roman festival honoring a pagan god. After the Empire became the Holy Roman Empire early in the Fourth Century AD, Christians re-branded the pagan festival and gave the emerging Christian majority a cause for celebration. New believers wanted to continue their traditional time of feasting, and the Church found a convenient day for celebrating the birth of Christ.
So it’s accurate to say as many of us do that December 25th is about Jesus. But that’s only true because we won. The Emperor Constantine became a believer and the church suddenly enjoyed new influence and opportunity. It’s good to celebrate the birth of Christ and this is as good as day as any, I suppose.
But we must not get all huffy and defensive when people talk about Winter Holidays or Solstice or suggest that December 25th is not a religious holiday. The fact is, we’re not winning anymore and we haven’t won any new ground in the USA in a long, long time. For example, a Pew Poll out this week found that while nine of ten Americans celebrate Christmas, fully half enjoy it as a secular, cultural event rather than a religious one. And young people are more likely to celebrate in a secular fashion. We’re not winning anything here.
Elsewhere a long line of pollsters have found that the number of ardent followers of Christ in the USA continues to decline. What’s more, Millennials are less likely to evangelize than any previous generation. Clearly, somebody is winning hearts and minds in this country, but it’s not the church.
Perhaps we should resolve this year to become a little less defiant and a lot more effective. Unless you and I begin to influence our neighbors for the Kingdom and grow strong disciples in our homes, we may very well keep the faith but lose the holiday- not to mention the culture. Let’s make the most of a special holy day, but never take it for granted. History advances and the times are always a’changing. December 25th will continue to be about Jesus only if the church becomes contagious again.
Lift up the Cross!