Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” (II Timothy 4:2)
So, we’re into the holiday season, and with it the yearly Christmas controversy – almost as intense as the Halloween controversy.
[Some zealous Christ-followers have a strong conviction that October 31 is “the devil’s day,” and that no true believer in Jesus should be doing anything that day, except perhaps praying. Some who are a little less fearful hand out Christian tracts to trick-or-treaters along with the candy, and even some children have given out tracks as they go door-to-door. (Their parents have been accused on social media of allowing their children to “worship Satan.”) Then there are people like me, who believe every day, including October 31, belongs to God, and why would we give Satan dominion over one hour? As some of my more long-time readers know, my friends and I held an evangelistic outreach on October 31 for 15 years, a multimedia presentation called “Satan’s Worst Nightmare,” about the death, burial, resurrection, and ultimate victory of Jesus over Satan. Still, people accused me of serving Satan. (by laughing at him? I’m confused…) I was asked, “Why don’t you do all that, just do it on a different day?” Answer: If we’re preparing an outdoor attraction for a cold Michigan evening, we’re going to do it when there are a large number of people out and about, looking for good things to take home with them. It’s called “strategy.”]
I absolutely respect the rights of others to live by their own convictions. But I am ultimately accountable to God, and I need to live by the convictions He has given me. And my conviction is, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” (II Timothy 4:2)
So now we’re entering the joyful season where we celebrate Christ’s birth! And again some people are on the attack, regarding the “pagan” ways that Christmas is celebrated, how Santa, Rudolph, and other traditions have taken the place of Jesus. So, we’re being told that a true Christian should refuse to participate in any kind of Christmas celebration.
I’m not sure the apostle Paul would agree.
In his journeys through the ancient world Paul preached the gospel to anyone who would listen. He was the first to purposefully preach the Messiah to Gentiles, and he came under severe attack from the Jews for doing so. Peter later came on board, but only after God gave him a vivid dream and an encounter with a devout Gentile believer.
The point is, when Jesus gave the Great Commission, He said to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person. (Mark 16:15) I’m guessing this includes Westerners who celebrate Christmas in ways we would not connect to Jesus.
In Acts 17 we read about an experience Paul had in Athens as he was waiting to meet up with Silas and Timothy:
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (Acts 17: 16)
But instead of being “offended” and leaving town, Paul stayed in Athens, reasoning with the Jews, God-fearing Greeks, and some Greek philosophers, who took him to a meeting of the Areopagus to give his message.
[T]hey said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17: 19b- 23)
And Paul goes on to explain the gospel to the very interested crowd.
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. (Acts 17: 32-34a)
Do you see what happened? Paul met these people where they were. He didn’t rail against their idols, but rather commended them on their interest in spiritual things. And he used their altar to an unknown god as a springboard to introduce them to the God they had not known up to that point. And some of these people were saved.
This story comes back to me every time I hear someone railing against the “pagan” traditions of this fallen world that the Church has let creep into our celebrations, with the implication that true believers should therefore retreat from all things Christmas.
Reflecting on Acts 17, I think, What?! Waste a golden opportunity to share the gospel???
What other time of year do we hear songs about Jesus being played in the streets, in the stores, on the radio, even Christmas specials on TV? Like the Greek philosophers in Athens, minds and hearts are wide open! As people are hearing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” for the hundredth time, we can ask, “Do you know what this song is about?” If the answer is “Now that you mention it, no, I don’t,” we have a perfect opening to share what “God and sinners reconciled!” means. Even if that person doesn’t receive Jesus on the spot, from then on every time they hear that song the Lord will remind them that Jesus is His way of reconciling with a lost, sinful world. Why would I refuse to participate in this annual open mission field?
Prayer: Lord, forgive us for wanting to put limits on when we can share the gospel or who can receive it. Pour Your creativity into us, and open our eyes to opportunities to share Your good news, especially in this unusual Christmas season, where many souls are hungrier than ever. In Jesus’ name, amen.