Well, Christmas is upon us – again – and unlike years gone by, I wanted to give my readers, assuming I have any, enough time to circulate the column that I think expresses the reason that our culture hates Christmas as it does. While there may be numbers of reasons for that animosity, I am convinced that some subliminal fear resides beneath the surface. Hence, I would like to borrow from “The Christmas Carol” to explain my reasoning and let the “Spirits” of Christmas Past (history) , Present (life), and Future (eternity) reveal that fact. Collectively, these realities terrify those who would extract Christ from culture and the holiday that bears his name. In fact, Christmas may very well be the scariest time of the year for some, and as this piece will reveal, rightly so.
The Spirit of Christmas Past appears first, and upon his arrival he opens the curtains of time and carries modern man immediately to the time and place where hopelessness and hope merged in one event, the birth of Jesus. Stopping there just long enough to see where the baby Jesus lay, the spirit jerks him away to the more distant past to watch the predictions of the prophets unfold before their eyes. They hear the first promise of a redeemer (Genesis 3:15). Then, moving through time at the speed of thought, he drags them to the predictions of Jesus’ birthplace, Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), to the place of his miracles and then to the mount of his death, Golgotha (Isaiah 53) – and just before they can laughingly explain it all away as the workings of mere chance or human imagination, he whisks them away to the dreaded empty tomb. Yes, the “empty tomb.” It is there that they begin to shudder with the resurrection’s factuality etched into the immutable past, thus confirming this divine invasion on that first Christmas like nothing else.
The incarnation, then, contradicts everything modern man believes about God. In the face of willful skepticism, it declares God’s existence in certain and scary terms. While men either deny God’s existence or confine the divine to some mystical uncertainty, the historical incarnation shoves God right smack-dab into the ordinary flow of human history, revealing modern man’s assumption that man is the measure of all things as the philosophical nonsense that it is. It declares, as did the late Francis Schaeffer, “God is there, and he is not silent.”
The Spirit of Christmas Present haunts the enemies of Christ as well. In fact, it is at this time of year that the longings of the human heart surface with disturbing intensity, and no matter how advanced we think we are, there is no remedy. Think about it. We hate, loneliness with a passion, but especially at Christmas. We despise war, greed, hate, racism, injustice, and other reprehensible traits of the human heart that plague us throughout the year, and every year, but just this one day we call Christmas, we want things to be as they “should” be.
This merciless spirit magnifies the unbridgable disconnect between the way things are in this world and the way things “should” be. It flaunts the impossible before us, a utopianism always beyond our grasp. Hence, real life confirms our helplessness as a race and the incarnation only drives that horrifying truth even deeper, and the fact that God had to invade our race to deliver us only magnifies our state apart from him.
Finally, the Spirit of Christmas Future arrives. He drags modern man, kicking and screaming, to the very edge of life itself and slowly points him to the one thing that awaits us all – eternity. I know – just the thought of eternity terrifies those who imagine that death ends it all, yet it is so much a part of our nature that we cannot ignore it. It tells us that God eventually gets the final word, bespeaking, I might add, of that which modern man would much rather forget, ultimate accountability before a holy and righteous God.
So, why the fear? The incarnation lays the constant pressures of history, life, and the eternity that awaits us all at our contemporary and temporal feet, and the more secular we become the more scary those realities appear. It is the babe in the manger, then, and all that his arrival implies that terrifies modern man like nothing else.
There is irony, though, because despite the persistent attempts to erase Christ and His Name from culture, His staunchest enemies still long for those very things that He alone can provide. In other words, without Him, the images of peace, good-will and hope, either in this life or beyond, are nothing more than good dreams in the midst of a real life nightmare.