Written By Tyler Edwards, USA
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.
Have you noticed that sometimes, Christmas can get controversial?
I’ve seen people yelling in the faces of workers at Walmart or other retail stores, just for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I appreciate our love for Jesus and our desire to make sure everyone else knows it, but maybe the reason they aren’t listening is because we are yelling it and not showing it.
Remember the pastor who got upset when Starbucks changed their Christmas cups from snowflakes to plain red? What do snowflakes and snowmen have to do with the birth of Jesus? Absolutely nothing. The pastor’s reaction wasn’t honoring Jesus; it was misguided frustration from a change he didn’t like.
Don’t get me wrong, Christmas has always been controversial: A teenage mother having a baby out of wedlock, in a culture and time where that was not even remotely acceptable. Shepherds, who are lowly, dirty, and were not generally well thought of in Jewish culture. “Wise men” or magi, who were likely pagan magicians. If that’s not bad enough, Jesus was born surrounded by unclean animals.
No part of this story fits the nice, neat picture we portray. It was scandalous. It was shocking. It was offensive. It was also a declaration of the Gospel—that Jesus didn’t just come for a group of special, set apart people. He came for everyone. For sinners. For the unclean. Even for those who practiced forbidden arts. Yes, Jesus came for them too.
Who Is Christmas For?
I went to school with a guy who now pastors a mega-church. He told me about one year where Christmas fell on a Sunday. He and the elders decided that rather than having church, they wanted to encourage their people to be the church that week. To honor Jesus by following His example out in the community.
They offered some practical ideas: take gifts to a needy family, volunteer at a soup kitchen, reconcile with a family member you’d had a falling out with, bring Christmas to someone who’d be alone for the holidays. There are so many ways we can show the heart of Christmas to a world that has lost sight of it.
But some people didn’t like this idea. The pastor received dozens of death threats, from Christians who felt the idea of canceling church on “Jesus’s birthday” was an offense against God.
The church moved forward with the event despite the opposition. Maybe it was a revolutionary act for their church culture. Or maybe it was just an opportunity for them to check their hearts and remember what the heart of Christmas was all about.At some point we all have to ask ourselves, is our passion for Jesus displaying itself in a way that honors Him? Do we value the traditions of Christmas more than we value the heart of Christmas?
When we boycott companies because they go against our traditions, are we showing the world the grace of God? Does our passion, our drive, our leaping before looking contradict the message of the Gospel we claim to believe?
Christmas isn’t about traditions. It’s not just about giving gifts, or snowflakes and trees. Christmas is about Jesus. If we don’t honor Jesus by showing and sharing His love with others because we are too focused on our traditions, we’ve missed the point.
Most of our traditional customs and practices at Christmas time have little or nothing to do with Jesus. They’re all good fun, but they’re not sacred. They are just cultural customs and practices we loosely connect to Him. When we lose sight of what really matters at Christmas, we fight over the wrong things.
So how can we honor Jesus and live out the heart of Christmas this year? I’d like to suggest that we do this by pursuing the mission of Jesus.
It could look like putting an end to conflict in our family, or spending time with lonely people in our community. We could also consider feeding the hungry or bringing our Christmas feasts to the poor and needy. Maybe we could also invite our friends to church with us, or better yet, invest in their lives and share the Gospel with them ourselves. What better way to honor the God who gave us life, than by offering that life to others?
Regardless of how we choose to live out the mission of Jesus this Christmas, the most important thing is this: We have to remember who we are doing it for.
Why I’m Hopeful This Christmas
While I have seen so many “Christians” behaving in ways that are antithetical to the Gospel, I find myself not enraged, but hopeful. I remember Peter, who was passionate, even zealous for Jesus. But in his zeal for Jesus, he missed the mark as often as he hit it. Remember in the garden on the night Jesus was arrested? Peter drew his sword and cut a guy’s ear off. It seemed like a bold and heroic gesture from Peter. But Jesus’s response shows us he missed the mark (Luke 22:50-51).
I am hopeful that, like Peter, we will grow. I am hopeful that, like Peter, our love for God will surpass our blind passion. I am hopeful that, like Peter, our joy and conviction in having encountered the resurrected Jesus will drive us to faithfully serve and follow Him. Hopeful that we will leave this world a little more like the Kingdom of God than when we found it.
So this Christmas, I’d like to challenge all of us to find one person who does not yet know Jesus. If we can reach one person during a time where people tend to be more receptive to the Gospel, if we can show one person who Jesus is during this season, then we can begin to see the real meaning of Christmas. The greatest gift that is given is not some expensive treasure in a kingdom of ash and dust; the greatest gift is bringing someone into the kingdom of God.