Written by Doug Ponder on November 28, 2015
Aunt Barbara and the War on Christmas
Even before the last of the Thanksgiving Day leftovers are tucked away, the ‘Black Friday’ sales will be spread on the table, brown boxes will be brought down from the attic, and conversations will be steered toward the coming of Christmas.
That’s when you brace yourself for Aunt Barbara’s annual diatribe about the “war on Christmas.”
Like decorations on the family tree, her rant only grows each year, adding new frustrations to old ones in an ever-lengthening tirade about ‘what this world is coming to.’ This year’s new addition will be the Starbucks red cup “scandal”. But the mainstay that takes the central place of honor is always the repeated call to “Keep Christ in Christmas.”
In the same vein, I can recall an incident a few years ago when I was eating at a Mexican restaurant several days before Christmas. In the main dining room hung a white board with the day’s specials listed in bright colors, along with a short festive message: “Mery Xmas”.
Many people spotted the typo, I’m sure, but it wasn’t the missing “R” that drew the ire of one man. Seeing an “X” in the place of Christ, he stood up in his chair and addressed the restaurant in his best preacher voice.
“Y’all see that right there?” he said as he pointed to the message on the marker board. “That’s what’s wrong with this country. We took Christ outta Christmas, and now he’s takin’ us outta his blessing.”
He made his way over to the white board and grabbed a marker resting on its ledge. With one hand he erased the troublesome “X” and with the other he scrawled the word “Christ” in its place.
Much of the restaurant cheered. Some people clapped. Others said “Amen!” While others shouted a hearty, “Merry Christmas!” The restaurant’s workers looked puzzled.
Never mind the fact that this was written on a marker board by people whose first language was not English. (Can you spell “Merry Christmas” in another language?)
Never mind the fact that Christmas has been abbreviated “Xmas” since the 1500s. (That’s long before there were really any anti-religious/secularizing influences to be found.)
Never mind the fact that Latino Americans are among the least likely demographic group to be secular. (Surely it wasn’t a sinister move on their part.)
And never mind the fact that the “X” in Xmas is actually a symbol for Christ in the first place! (It’s the letter chi, the first letter of “Christ” in the Greek New Testament.)
The Real War on Christmas
If you want to lament the decline of Christian faith in our country, that’s fine. (But you at least should point the finger where it belongs.) Retail stores and coffee companies aren’t the problem. They’re just trying to make money. It’s not rocket science; it’s just capitalism. The more non-Christians there are in our country, the more likely a store will be offer generic holiday greetings. The stores aren’t setting the trends away from Christmas-related greetings and merchandise—they’re just following them. There is a war on Christmas, but this isn’t it.
The real war on Christmas is one that’s been waged since the dawn of our world. The great dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan (Rev. 12:9), has been waging this war ever since he deceived our first parents into going their own way instead of trusting the love of their Creator (Gen. 3:1-13).
Satan was present when God promised to send a special Son who would crush his head (Gen. 3:15). Since that day he has been doing everything in his power to stop that Son from coming into the world.
His strategies throughout the centuries have varied: making God’s people barren so that the son of the promise can’t be born to people who can’t have children (Gen. 16:1; 25:21); acting through Egypt’s pharaoh to order the killing every male child in Israel (Ex. 1:22); scattered God’s people through conquest (2 Kings 25); and turning the hearts of God’s people toward idols (2 Chron. 29 – 30).
These attacks couldn’t stop God from fulfilling his promise, however. And when they didn’t work, Satan attempted an attack on Jesus directly when he was just a baby. Satan used king Herod like a puppet to have all male children two years old or younger in Bethlehem put to death (Matt. 2:16). This gruesome act has come to be known as “The Massacre of the Innocents,” a name that reminds us of the Satanic roots of abortion, which, Herod-like, ends the life of babies that post a threat to our way of life.
Satan would keep on waging this war, battle after battle, loss and after loss, up to that crucifixion of Jesus, when he thought he’d won. One of my favorite musical artists describes that day like this:
Now the demons they danced in the darkness
When that last ragged breath left his lungs.
And they reveled and howled
At the war that they though they had won.
But then in the dark of the grave,
The stone rolled away
In the still of the dawn on the greatest days…
It was high noon in the valley of the shadow,
When the shadows were shot through with light.
When Jesus took in that breath
And shattered all death with his life.
[He said] “Be gone, you wages of sin.
Go on, don’t you come back again.
I’ve been raised and redeemed,
You’ve lost all your sting
To the victor of the battle.”
High noon in the valley,
In the valley of the shadow.
(from Andrew Peterson’s “High Noon”)
The War Continues
Perhaps we are tempted to think that since this ancient battle was won by Jesus (Col. 2:13-15), it does not concern us today. But we’d be foolish to think so. The Scriptures tell us that Satan, though mortally wounded, continues his war. He prowls around like a wild beast, seeking to devour whomever he can (1 Pet. 5:8). He fights like an injured animal cornered in a cage; he is wounded, but wild.
With Jesus safe at his Father’s side (Heb. 1:3), Satan has set his sights on you and me. And he wages his war with darts of doubt (Eph. 6:16).
Maybe God doesn’t love me…
Maybe I’m not really forgiven…
Maybe I should feel guilty and scared…
Maybe Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead…
Maybe there’s too much darkness in the world…
Where do we think these thoughts come from? They’re the last-ditch efforts of an enemy who’s been beaten but not yet destroyed (Rev. 20:7-10). Satan can’t stop Jesus, so he’ll try to stop us from trusting Jesus. This is the war on Christmas, and it’s waged around the clock, around the world.
Yet Christmastime is a special season of battle. Christmas is a call to arms, a summons to war—not to fight against retail stores and candy makers—but against the doubts and temptations and against the real evils in the world. It’s a call to remember the gospel, the failure of Satan to stop Jesus, and the promise that Jesus will come again to finish what he started.
So keep up the fight, and Merry Xmas.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder