This year The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger even declared that Christmas is dead.
Is it time for an autopsy?
Scanning the store windows up and down New York’s Fifth Avenue, Henninger chronicled the ways in which major commercial outlets had erased even the most sentimental traces of Christmas from their windows, replacing Santa Claus and his elves with palm readers; the Roman god, Neptune; and the inebriated and seductive images of holiday revelers. Only Macy’s, Henninger notes, held out and featured Charlie Brown and the gang.
Do these developments suggest a trend, or what Henninger describes as the “de-sanctification” of Christmas? Probably. But it is perilously easy to overestimate the significance of New York ad agencies and window dressers.
Would Christian leaders be well advised to pay attention to what is happening in the culture around them? Sure.
Christians need to be active observers of the world around them.
But how should the church respond? Shall we wring our hands? Offer new legislation?
Let’s not waste our time.
Instead, let’s strike out in a new and decisively constructive direction in 2016 and make a few notes for the future:
One: Remember that the culture is not the custodian of the Christian tradition. The church is the custodian of Christmas.
Nothing about our cultural traditions will ever be deeply articulate or spiritually and theologically grounded. It will always be deeply colored by sentimentality, commercialism. The culture will always distort and exploit the message of Christmas.
Two: Remember that your vocation is to provide leadership for the church. You are not the custodian of the culture’s conscience.
The Constitution and the country is – by design – pluralistic and must be. That priority preserves freedom of choice and freedom from tyranny of any and every kind.
Churches offer a place for faith formation to those who have made their choice; and clergy are charged with nurturing the means of grace that deepen the lives of those who have made that choice.
Three: Mine the rich traditions of Christmas — its narratives, its central figures, its traditions and theology.
There are countless untapped resources in the church’s tradition, most of which go untouched in any given year. Who needs Charlie Brown, anyway?
Four: Find ways in which to engage the members of your congregation in the active sanctification of the season, urging them to make worship a centerpiece of the celebration.
Who cares what is in Bergdorf Goodman’s window, when the smallest numbers of the year in most churches is the attendance at a Christmas day service? The latter should concern us far more than the former.
Five: Look for new ways to engage families in the season-long observance of Christmas at home.
What our churches really lack is a sense of celebration and occasion, particularly at home. Help the church’s families to recapture an understanding of Christmas that transcends the sentimental and you need not worry about what is in Macy’s window.
image by artur 84, used with permission from freedigitalphotos.net