I’m still mulling over Sinclair Ferguson’s article Should Christians Abandon Christmas? because I believe there is a more serious danger in his reasoning than in the issues he addresses in the article.
One of his main points is that if a church ignores Christmas, then pastors might not ever get around to the Christmas story. He writes:
But ask the question the other way round. When churches “ignore” Christmas, how much preaching and teaching are they likely to receive on the incarnation? Somewhere between four and twelve messages? I doubt it. Such non-scientific investigation of preachers I have done indicates that, in fact, by and large, the incarnation will be ignored. Is that a more biblical approach?
I don’t buy either of one of his premises. First, I don’t accept the incarnation as Christmas. It’s not. What Christmas has become, what it truly is, not what they say it is supposed to be, but what it truly is, has nothing to do with the incarnation. Christmas has nothing to do with being a Christian. It has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. It tends to be a carnal celebration that focuses on the lights, the sounds, the smells, family traditions, and the accumulation of material goods.
You will not find the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the pure in heart or peacemakers in Christmas. The Incarnate One was very concerned about those later qualities, and seems to completely ignore the former.
Second, I don’t accept the premise that if you don’t preach at Christmas about Christmas, that you will ignore the incarnation. Simply preaching about Christ’s ministry is preaching about the incarnation. Here we see the real problem. We associate the incarnation merely with the birth account, but Christ’s entire earthly ministry is about the incarnation. Listen to John’s words: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Yes, there was a birth event which is part of the incarnation. But the entire incarnation is summed up in the words dwelt among us. His entire ministry was part of the incarnation.
Another realization about the incarnation is that when John writes his letter to the churches, he doesn’t focus on the birth at all. If we were to celebrate the birth of Christ as it is being done today, I believe the apostles would have done so in their letters. But they don’t. Listen to what John focuses upon:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
Notice that the focus is not on the birth at all, but with what their hands have handled. The apostles didn’t handle Him at His birth. They focus was on what they had seen, and bear witness to, which is His earthly ministry. This is where He proved Himself to be the Messiah.
Yet, even given that, the incarnation cannot be ignored even if you don’t preach Christmas at Christmas. The incarnation is in our creeds, both the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds. If we are confessional at all, as I believe most faithful congregations are, then we will continually have the reality of the incarnation placed before us.
The incarnation will be a reality if we are truly going to preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). Notice Paul’s focus in what he preached: Christ crucified. It assumes Christ was born. It assumes He became flesh. It assumes those listening have a basic understanding of the incarnation. You can’t faithfully preach the gospel without mentioning the reality of the incarnation.
But the goal was still to preach Christ crucified. This is the heart of the gospel. The birth narratives help show that He is the expected Messiah, but there is nothing there showing us, nor calling us to celebrate in the fashion that is taking place in our world today. To move away from what is put forth as Christmas, is to move away from the satisfaction of the flesh. There is no room for that in our preaching.
Third, Ferguson is concerned that we will miss the incarnation. But the church that faithfully celebrates the LORD’s supper, celebrates the incarnation every time they hold the bread and wine in their hands. We have been given pictures and signs of the incarnation in the LORD’s supper. It is how He wanted us to celebrate the incarnation, along with His death and resurrection. Why do we need to add all the carnal signs of Christmas to what our LORD has already blessed us with?
Finally, what started me down this second post and concerns me greatly, is the exaltation of human reasoning that Ferguson employed in making his case. I’m not opposed to human reasoning in understanding Scripture. We must use our reasoning to do so. The problem comes when an argument is put forth based solely on the human reasoning it involves to reach its conclusion. Ferguson does this in the article. You can spot this by the lack of biblical support for his argument. The moment we resort to our human reasoning without Scriptural support, is the moment we exalted our powers of wit over an against Scripture.
As pastors, our goal is preaching the word of God in such a way, that the congregation is conformed to Scripture, based on what Scripture indeed says. When Scripture is silent, we must remain silent as well. Therefore, trying to justify Christmas with mere human reasoning, and a fear that it might ignore the incarnation, is hardly justification for preaching Christmas.
Ferguson is arguing for a day and a celebration that cannot be supported by Scripture. By saying that we need to add a holy day, a feast day, a celebration to what the LORD has already given us, is to say what He has given us is insufficient. What He has given us is not insufficient. It is all that we need and we need to guard against adding to His word. The LORD places these guards for us so that we will not fall into idolatry.
Sadly, that is what so much of Christmas has become. If Christmas were truly about Christ, then we could dispense with the lights, the trees, the materialism, and become more like the One who became flesh. He was One without a place to lay His head, who served others, died for His people. He humbled Himself and took on the form of a slave, even to the point of death on the cross. The day called Christmas hardly represents that. In fact, when we read about the life of Christ and His ministry, we see nothing of the sort.
For more understanding on the danger of Christmas, please read G.I. Williamson’s article Holy Days of Men and Holy Days of God. Using Christ’s words, Williamson shows that adding any holy days through tradition, which is what Christmas is, is to add to God’s word and therefore, is an abomination unto the LORD.
“For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).