Christmas – a Baptist perspective ?
We’ve been thinking about unwrapping the biblical story of Jesus birth, clearing away the clutter of traditions, secular, pagan, and “Christian” that often obscure its meaning and confuse all but the most careful bible reader. We probably all have different ways of responding to all this – different ways of trying to ensure that whatever we do during December, and on the 25th, we actually do give some thought to Jesus and worship God
As I read those posts about the pagan roots of Christmas, and considering how for most people celebrating Christmas nowadays the Jesus story is at best marginal to their celebration, I found myself thinking again about our own Baptist roots and distinctive convictions.
The early church baptised believers and didn’t have an annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. Their Roman neighbours celebrated Saturnalia, and most other cultures also had midwinter festivals from which most of our “Christmas” symbols are derived. Only when the emperors wanted to make “Christianity” the official religion of the empire did infant baptism become the norm, and the old Roman festivals get reinterpreted as “Christian” festivals. By these and other means everyone could be considered “Christian”. The rejection of infant baptism by our Anabaptist forefathers was not just the rejection of an outward ceremony, it was the rejection of the whole concept of Christendom – that a country or empire could be Christian, that governments had the right to determine the faith of their citizens, or that even parents should force their children to adopt their beliefs. If there can be no such thing as a Christian country, if Christendom is un-Christian, what then of Christmas? Are all these campaigns to “put Christ back into Christmas” or to prevent local councils changing it’s name to Midwinter Festival or something equally non religious not just attempts by people trying to hang on to Christendom , to force (they wouldn’t use that word but I think it’s the right one) other people to behave as Christians, even for one day in the year – if you’re going to celebrate the 25th of December you have to worship Jesus! Or at least pretend to.
I would have thought that Baptists would not want any part of this. Sure we want to use what’s left of people’s knowledge of the biblical story of Jesus birth as an evangelistic opportunity. But maybe we can do that better by letting others have their mid winter festival in honour of Mammon, let them call it whatever they want, and let us, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, just stand up and face the other way . Let us worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus. Let the worship of God, and the nature of the king born in obscurity, poverty, and vulnerability, who’s birth, life, and death redefined words like “king”, “kingdom”, “power” and “glory” ,also reshape the way we celebrate his birth. If we want to continue doing that on 25th December, well ok, let everyone do as he believes is right before the Lord, and let us not judge on another (tree or no tree etc.), but love and respect one another. Whatever we do or don’t do, let us not allow the mammon worship of western culture to determine how we celebrate.
Maybe we need to take some very specific steps to disentangle ourselves from the madness….steps that will maybe lead others too in a different direction. Maybe we can talk about that with each other and help each other to be creative in our celebration. (Not just negative about the Christlessness of other peoples “Christmas”) After all, the world is only celebrating an annual celebration, we are celebrating the birth of the Saviour of the world. Therefore if they are celebrating, then we much more so. As they indulge the flesh so let us be even more full of the Spirit. As they exchange gifts, let us give joyfully to those from whom we can expect nothing in return. I could go on, but you know what I mean. Whatever you want to call it, may we all celebrate the coming of the Lord, and look forward to his coming again, with faithful obedience,hope, and great joy.