As godless secularism becomes more and more entrenched in our culture, the Christmas season is one of the most contentious times in our calendar. Every year, there are stories in the news of banned Christmas trees or of Christmas trees renamed "holiday trees." Christmas concerts at public schools draw threats of a lawsuit (even when the poor in Africa are the beneficiaries!), and U.S. congressmen are barred from wishing their constituents a "Merry Christmas" in their official mailings. This year, even Charlie Brown is creating controversy.
Actually, when it comes to A Charlie Brown Christmas, there was controversy from the beginning. In 1965, just as the culture wars were heating up in the U.S., the "enlightened" executives at CBS balked at the Peanuts classic containing Bible passages. Most every American has heard Linus, in teaching Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas, perfectly recite the King James Version of Luke 2:8-14. Of course, the Scripture reference is what was "controversial."
Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts (the most popular and influential comic strip of all time), was insistent. As Lee Habeeb of National Review puts it, "[Schulz] knew that the Luke reading by Linus was the heart and soul of the story."
Today children (and adults) are bombarded with deceptive (but alluring) messages about "Christmas spirit" and how Christmas is about "spreading joy throughout the world" and "a time for warmth and brotherly love" (as a recent TV cartoon declared). Even Dickens's iconic A Christmas Carol is bereft of the complete message of Christmas.
Of course, brotherly love and spreading joy are not bad things, but they are far from the "heart and soul" of Christmas. Schulz was right. The "heart and soul" of any Christmas story is "behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."
Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, Christmas is the story of how "the rightful King has landed." Just prior to His death, as Jesus stood before the Roman governor Pilate, Pilate asked Him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" After some discussion, Pilate concluded to Jesus, "You are a king, then!" Jesus answered him saying, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world."
So Christmas is a celebration of the birth of our Savior King. "Hark! The herald angels sing; glory to the newborn King!" This is the reason for the all of the conflict and contention when it comes to Christmas time. This is why so many fear a Nativity scene, a Christmas tree, or even a meek "Merry Christmas."
Who wants to be confronted with the idea that maybe they are ignoring the most significant event in human history? Who wants to be reminded that perhaps Jesus Christ really was (and is) a King?
And He's not just any king, but a king with a holy mission. "Amazing love, how can it be, that you my King would die for me?" Jesus was the Christ, the "Messiah," the "Anointed One." As the angel reported to the shepherds, "today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you[.]" Jesus was a king who was born to die -- not only to die, but to rise again and rule forever.
His death was to "redeem" us and to serve as "atonement" for us. Jesus came into the world so that the world, through Him, "might be saved." And on the third day after his death, our King, born in a stable, conquered even death so that we could live forever with Him.
When Christians truly celebrate Christmas, we celebrate not just a birthday, but the beginning of a sequence of events that would change the world forever. He was born, He lived, He died, He arose, and now He is preparing a place for all of those who would believe in Him. Just as sure as all of the other events took place, we who celebrate Christmas look forward to His return, and we will celebrate for all eternity.
Just before handing Jesus over for crucifixion, Pilate asked the crowd, "What shall I do, then, with Jesus?" That is the ultimate question that each of us must answer, and Christmas provides us with the beginning of the answer.
Have a truly Merry Christmas.