Christmas time is confusing. If most of us are asked, ‘what comes to mind when you think about Christmas?’ – if we are honest – our answers are a myriad of images from tinsel to trees; Santa to snow and gifts to the Grinch. It’s an exciting time, but it’s also a confusing time.
This confusion can be seen in popular media. The Doctor Who directors portrayed Christmas (and Christian) confusion in the opening scene that introduced us to Amelia (Amy) Pond. Kneeling by her bed, hands joined, and eyes closed she seems to be praying, but what is she saying?
“Dear Santa, thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It’s Easter now, so I hope I didn’t wake you…”
What’s all that about? Are the Doctor Who script writers just being weird? No. They are portraying the reality. What is the reality? Christmas and Christianity are confused and confusing. Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) also touches on this issue:
“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer conglomerates. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously?”
You don’t have to look far in contemporary media to see the confusion surrounding Christmas and Christianity in general. Os Guinness was right when he said,
“Today the cultural memory of traditional values hangs precariously like late autumn leaves. . .”
Answers to questions such as ‘what is Christmas?’ and ‘what is Christianity?’ may have invoked clearer answers from westerners in the past, but that is not the case today. When asked the question, ‘who do you think Jesus is/was?’ the people of Scotland have a multitude of conflicting perspectives.
- 37% Say a person who actually lived, but not God. Maybe a good moral teacher, or a prophet, but not God.
- 24% Say Jesus was elevated to being ‘son of God’ after his death. In other words, the claims to divinity are a myth that Jesus did not promote.
- 12% Say God
- 8% Say Jesus has transformed their lives in a powerful way.
- 13% Say, ‘Don’t know’
Whilst this looks dire, I also think it is exciting. There is a fresh opportunity for the church to engage in apologetics concerning the person of Christ. If 37% acknowledge that Jesus existed, that is a starting point. Let’s help people engage with the source documents – the gospels and it will soon become clear that simply believing that Jesus was a good guy is not an option that is open to us.
Bono from U2 helps illustrate this. When asked who he thought Jesus was, he unashamedly said,
“I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying he was a great thinker or great philosopher. Because, actually, he went around saying he was the Messiah. That’s why he was crucified. He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God . . . So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God or he was nuts. . . . Forget rock-and-roll messianic complexes, I mean Charlie Manson-type delirium. And I find it hard to accept that whole millions and millions of lives, half the Earth, for 2,000 years have been touched, have felt their lives touched and inspired by some nutter. I just, I don’t believe it.”
It’s hard not to hear echoes of C.S Lewis in Bono’s response.
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
In other words, the only three options when it comes to Jesus are that he was either a Liar, a Lunatic or he was in fact Lord.
Jesus once asked his disciples the question, “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”(Matt. 16: 15)
This is the most important question we will ever be asked, and our answer is equally important. Why? The Bible informs us explicitly that,
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
In other words, eternal salvation is entirely dependent upon a sincere faith in the heart which is expressed through our lips. Whether or not we profess to believe in Christ actually matters.
This Christmas is another opportunity. It’s an opportunity to see past the snowflakes and candy in order to see the Christ – the Christ who came from heaven to earth to die for our sins to bring us back to God.