When God became flesh in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, it forever changed our world. Since then, many have claimed to be his equal, but none have ever come close to being his rival.
Every Christmas season, we hear radical calls to eradicate all displays of the nativity, any mention of Christ in Christmas, and all wishes for a Merry Christmas. It’s been a relentless assault from atheists, liberal academics, historical revisionists and politically correct special interest groups.
If such behaviour were just outside the church that would be bad enough. We could simply blame it on people’s ignorance or hostility of the historical and biblical narrative. Yet when the mainstream liberal “church”, once bastions of orthodoxy, does everything in its power to denigrate the Incarnation of Christ in the name of diversity, pluralism, and political correctness, this is an even greater travesty.
Liberal theology is not new. It is also not new for the church to be culturally accommodating. Culture was Hitler’s strongest selling point to the growing liberal church in Germany. Hitler was bent on scrubbing the state clean of Christian influence. So how could he do that with so many “Christians” and pastors living in Germany? Thankfully, seven hundred pastors and priests were thrown into concentration camps because they had the courage and conviction to not “count their lives dear unto themselves” (see: Acts 20:24). But what can be said of the literally thousands upon thousands of pastors and Christians who bought into Hitler’s culture of Nazism?
One such pastor, among the many eager to embrace Hitler’s agenda, was Julius Leutherser. On August 30, 1933, he gushed, “Christ has come to us through Hitler . . . . through his honesty, his faith and his idealism, the Redeemer found us . . . . We know today the Savior has come . . . . we have only one task, be German, not Christian”.1 Yes, you read that correctly. Clearly, the swastika meant more to some pastors in Germany than the Cross.
The German people had celebrated Christmas and Easter for centuries until Hitler reinterpreted their meaning. Christmas was turned into a totally pagan festival. Carols and nativity plays were banned from the schools in 1938, and even the name “Christmas” was a changed to “Yuletide.’’ Crucifixes were eliminated from classrooms and public places and Easter was turned into a holiday that heralded the arrival of spring. Yes, the land that gave us Luther and Bach, also gave the world Hitler and Hess.
Is there anything about Nazi Germany’s attempts to mute all Christian influence that resembles what has been happening in our nation in recent years? Why didn’t the many Christians and pastors living in Nazi Germany see what was happening and do something about it? Why did they not realize that watering down their convictions and their faith would have serious ramifications? We have the benefit of looking back at history and seeing the perilous slide of the church into the Nazi agenda. But what have we learned from all of this? One historian noted that the only thing we can learn from history is that we do not learn from history!
The church is called upon to be a godly and moral influence in society. It is to penetrate culture with the message of Christ's love and good news, while at the same time not letting culture permeate the church. Churches that stand for cultural accommodation, at the expense of orthodoxy, end up usually falling for everything that is not orthodox. They end up losing all of their moral relevance.
Recently a team of researchers discovered what they say is the “secret ingredient” that enables some churches to grow while others are in decline. The researchers, led by David Haskell of Wilfred Laurier University, have found that when it comes to church growth and decline, theology matters. Moreover, churches that have remained steadfast in following traditional Christian beliefs are more likely to see their congregations grow compared to those who take a more liberal approach. Haskell, whose findings will appear in this month’s issue of Review of Religious Research, had the following observation:
When we talk about a conservative religious doctrine we’re talking about a more literal interpretation of the Bible,” Haskell said. “Where the Bible says, ‘Jesus rose from the dead’ or ‘God performs miracles,’ the conservative Christian view is that Jesus really did rise from the dead and God is with us and performs miracles. The liberal approach interprets such statements as metaphorical”.2
Immanuel—God is with us, is known as the Incarnation of Christ. The doctrine of the Incarnation is foundational to orthodox Christianity. John 1:14, says, "The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth". Churches that value and uphold orthodox truths like these are the same churches that David Haskell describes as growing.
No wonder that in his portrayal of the nativity scene, Rembrandt focused his attention entirely on the Babe in the manger. He did this by painting a shaft of light so that it falls exclusively on the Christ-child. Although he included other figures, they are shrouded in shadows. Rembrandt wanted nothing to detract from the significance of that baby—who was God in the flesh. He wanted Christ to be the sole object of adoration as he should be.
It is hard to believe that so many celebrations around this Christmas season will be so far removed from the one whose birthday they should be celebrating. So many will celebrate Christmas without ever worshiping Jesus, the reason for this season. People will attend parties where Christ’s name will never be mentioned. Christmas cards will be decorated with birds, candles, snow, just about everything except Christ.
A recent cartoon showed two homes decorated for Christmas. One had lights everywhere. There was a plastic snowman in the yard, a Santa on the roof, and a flashing sign in the front yard that said, “Merry Xmas! Tim the Tool Man would have been impressed. The other home had only a simple manger scene in the yard. The couple from the first house was looking out their window at the manger scene in their neighbor’s yard and said: “Some people have to put religion into everything.” It is sad that some people see it that way. Christ's intent was not to start a "religion" but a movement of disciples committed to sharing his life giving message.
To put things into context, Frederick Buechner said:
It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did . . . . for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.3
Let us put the Son of God, Jesus Christ, back into Christmas. Everywhere we go let us tell the world the wonderful news that a Savior has been born—One who saves us from our sins and longs to have a relationship with all of us!
C. Lewis said it well in the Chronicles of Narnia, a world without the birth of Jesus is a world that is, “always winter . . . . never Christmas”.
May you have more than a winter this season, may you have a blessed Christmas worshipping Jesus the Son of God!
1. Erwin Lutzer, Hitler’s Cross, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012),105.
2. Vincent Ball, Study Examines Church Growth/Decline, http://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/2016/11/20/study-examines-church-growthdecline, Nov. 20, 2016.
3. Frederick Buechner as quoted in Croswalk.com, http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/inspiring-quotes/25-quotes-about-christ-for-your-christmas.html