Global View: Losing the Battle of Christmas, or Winning It!

Posted by Fr. Tere on 12/23/2014

One of the delightful things about international travel is meeting people in other countries who read GlobalView. So far, all the “in person” comments I have received have been very encouraging. On the other hand, there are also some messages from people, usually by email or sometimes on Facebook or through our Diocesan portal that are less so… Usually the critical comments have to do with the fact that in some weekly missive, I am unquestionably an idiot because I did not include the OBVIOUS reference to Saints Cosmas and Damian, the twin brother patron saints (who were amazing physicians who would not accept payment for services), or I missed a reference to St. Benvento, the patron saint of dryer vents. 

I share this because I am expecting blowback from the liturgically particular and  precise for what I am suggesting today. With that as preamble, fasten your seat belts…

The shorthand summary of Anglicanism is the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. It’s four tenants are:

• The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

  • The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
  • The two Sacraments — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with   unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
  • The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

Those are not meant to be an exhaustive description of Anglicanism, but they are the minimal things about which we need to have agreement in order to enter into Communion with other Christian bodies. But… that is not the purpose for which I reference it today. It is a phrase that is part of item 4 to which I’d like to refer, that is “locally adapted.". The principle is that in order to maximize Gospel impact, we need to recognize that our presentation of the Gospel needs to be adapted to the local culture. Western liberals have corrupted that principle adopting change the core values of the Gospel message. In so doing, they have allowed it to be overwhelmed by the surrounding culture so that their message has lost its power to save. That’s not what I’m suggesting. It is not the core values of the Gospel that need to be changed, but every year around this time, I have the sense that we are missing a golden opportunity. 

The Church’s liturgical calendar focus on Advent in the run-up to Christmas. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year and focuses on preparation for the return of Christ. In many congregations, it is a “mini-penitential” season, sort of “Get your act together, the boss will be back any second—look busy!” kind of thinking. That is good, right, and valuable, but focus on Advent means that there is no reference to Christmas at all until Christmas Eve. Starting with Christmas Eve, we then celebrate the weeks of Christmas (rightly), but many of our members and virtually all of our visitors find it bizarre that we are still talking about Christmas after the fact. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, many people, even secular ones, are quite disillusioned by the commercialism of Christmas and have a sense that something is wrong, but can’t seem to put their finger on what is wrong. In fact, Christmas, like Easter, is a central pillar of Christian civilization. Christmas dealing with the wonders of Incarnation and Easter with Atonement and power to change. 

In North America and the UK, the culture has shifted far away from the way that Christmas was woven into every day life in previous centuries. Now, not only do our villages not center around festivals of worship like those of our ancestors did, most of us don’t have much in the way of community except online. 

In addition, many Christians seeem afraid to refer to Christmas for fear that they will offend someone. This, however is a sure-fire way of offending me! I’ve told the clergy who work with me that anyone who sends me a Christmas card of skiing mice will be subject to some horrible retribution (which I have not yet devised, but will be terrible I’m sure).

What I’m suggesting is not forgetting Advent, but overlapping Advent and Christmas in order to speak Gospel life into the culture when there is some of the least resistance. This is particularly easy in music choices during December. Look at verse two and three to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” 

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

or this from verses three and four from “O, Little Town of Bethlehem”

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,

Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sins and enter in,

Be born to us today.

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell:

Oh, come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Emmanuel!

Including Christmas music during Advent will certainly tumble the gyros of the liturgically precise, but we need to capitalize on the opportunities we have to reach people with the Good News. 

Evangelism is different today than it was thirty years ago. Directive, authoritative declarations of the Bible’s authority are less effective than narrative stories of what is working in our lives. Those who face life without Christ are no less satisfied today than they were decades ago, but we do need to access their hearts differently than we did in the 1970’s. In the last two months I’ve had the opportunity to pray with about forty people to make first time commitments to Christ. Sure, I’ve been thrust into some fertile environments, but I’m sure that the opportunities could have been overlooked.

A more faithful approach to today’s Decembers should have the message of the birth of Christ and His amazing gift to us woven into the opportunities that present themselves to us. Part of that is that we should have these songs in our hearts and on our lips during the time that those around us have any openness to hear. Retreating from engaging the culture fearing criticism from naysayers or choosing to stay silent for whatever reason is causing us to lose not only the battle for talking about Christ and Christmas in everyday life, but we are also losing the battle of faithfully sharing the transformation that the Gospel brings to people’s lives.

Here is my invitation. Next year will you join me in sharing about Christ in Christmas even before Christmas Eve? Will you build bridges to those who don’t know Him capitalizing on the open doors that Christmas conversations offer?

What more do you need than the will to reach out and a message like:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember, Christ, our Saviour

Was born on Christmas day

To save us all from Satan's power

When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Bill Atwood
Bishop of the International Diocese
Anglican Church in North America

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