Fundamentalist Christianity was dead: to begin with. There can be no doubt. It was as dead as a door-nail. Its petrified, stone-cold corpse was buried long ago. No one bothered to mourn it because, quite frankly, neither it nor anyone else ever bothered to rejoice in its existence.
Now for those of you who may not know, “fundamentalist Christianity” or “fundamentalism” is a term used by Christian bloggers to speak of a sort of overly-serious, often self-righteous, and typically grumpy form of Christianity. There are a lot of other definitions out there and the word has morphed a lot over time, but that’s the one we’ll be using in this post.
Of course, fundamentalism isn’t really dead—it just seems that way. It looks like death, smells like death, but it causes far too much trouble to actually be dead. It may never die and so, in some sense, it’s not unlike a zombie. However, these zombies are trying to kill Christmas. Now, before this starts to sound like the plot to a B-team horror flick, let me explain what I mean.
Christmas a Humbug?
First, a qualifier. Not all fundamentalist zombies are trying to kill Christmas and I’m really only addressing the ones that are. There is a certain kind of fundamentalism that renders a person not unlike Scrooge. It’s an emphasis on the depravity of man so great that it eclipses the free grace of God. The problems of sin become so great that no good news could ever make it better. Show them a cloud made entirely of silver and they’ll tell you all about the shadow it casts.
This sort of pessimistic fundamentalism—of which I must admit I used to having been a part in the past—is often infuriated by Christmas. Its constituents might like the idea of remembering Jesus’ birth, but only as it points us to His death. As people celebrate with food and presents, they point out that the first Christmas wasn’t all happy and jolly like ours. It was dark, smelly, and in a cave somewhere. It was an ugly scene and probably everyone there had hangnails. Herod killed babies because of it and whatever Frankincense is, it’s probably carcinogenic.
The giving of gifts is materialism, they say. We should be about Spiritual things. The feasts are wastes of money that ought to be given to the poor. This celebration of Jesus’ birth is frivolous; He only needed a body so that He could die. Why would we feast in view of that? Scrooge said of his ghostly-visitor that he was a hallucination caused by indigestion—that there was more of gravy than of grave to him. If these fundamentalists have their way, Christmas feasts will be ended and there will be more of grave than of gravy at Christmas.
I haven’t even mentioned what they do with some of the other Christmas traditions, calling them all pagan. Lights were used to worship this false deity and wreathes were because of a great tree god—which also probably explains trees and maybe holly. Red and green were probably associated with some false god, or worse—their most hated sports team. Christmas is infected with worldliness; people just want to be happy and they don’t want to hear the truth.
Now, being fair, I should point out that I’ve never met the person who actually holds every single one of these views on Christmas; some are so exaggerated that I imagine a person who actually holds all of them would quite necessarily look like Gollum. Also to be fair, sometimes people hold a few of these views and are still quite well meaning.
However, Scrooge and this group of zombie Christmas-haters share in common their disdain for Christmas. In Ebeneizer’s case, his Scroogery seemed to be solved by looking at Christmases past, present, and yet to come. So that is precisely what we’ll be doing.
By Christmas past, I mean our Lord’s birth. Perhaps the most important thing about this narrative is that it is set at night. I don’t mean the time of day; I mean the time of history. Prior to Christ’s arrival, humanity dwelt in darkness. The nations were overcome by it and even Israel dwelt in deep darkness (Isaiah 9:2).
There were bits and pieces of light here and there. The Psalmist said that the Scriptures he had in his day were a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (Psalm 119:105). But the New Testament authors, as they recall the time prior to Christ’s birth, call this lamp a shadow compared to the light that would come (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). Christmas most certainly happened at night.
Imagine yourself, in a world so filled with darkness that people are quite used to not seeing. There is but one real source of light and it sits in Israel. If you want to use your eyes for the first time, you have to go there. Perhaps you convert to Judaism and visit the temple. There you see light for the first time. You hear the Word read and your eyes will actually see outlines, people walking around—but it’s so dark you can hardly tell them from trees, let alone make out facial features. However, this is all that’s available and you’re thankful for it.
Into this sort of scene, the Angel of the Lord descends. He speaks of a great joy which will be for all people. A Savior is born. He calls men to glorify God and he proclaims peace on earth and goodwill to men. All people? Before now, if you wanted light you had to go to Jerusalem. How was this light going to spread to all people?
If you’ve lived in darkness your whole life, you probably have no concept of morning. The idea of a light so big that it could stretch across from the east to the west and light up the entire world would seem impossible. But Jesus, the Son of David, is the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).
He came to earth and the darkness was peeled back. Gentiles were among the first to come and see him, guided by the light (Matthew 2:2). The message of light would no longer be, “come to Israel to see shadows and a lamp!” It would be, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14) You need only open your eyes and pull back your curtains to see this light.
Within a hundred years, the gospel would be virtually everywhere. Within five hundred, nearly all the temples dedicated to false gods would be replaced with churches. At Christmas, the gospel exploded onto the scene in a very big way; people from all over the world would begin to be saved in droves.
Jesus arrived as light and those who heard about Him knew things were going to change. The shepherds and the wise men rejoiced greatly. Herod, who loved darkness rather than light, tried to kill him. But everyone who heard about Jesus knew that something had changed. Morning had come.
This is what we are to be celebrating at our Christmases. This is why it makes sense to be so joyful. The light has come and God is saving people everywhere. There are quite probably more Christians in China right now than there are people in the United States. Rejoice! The light is shining all across the sky.
Jesus sent us a physical, material baby who would redeem a physical, material world. We won’t spend eternity as spirits; we’ll have new bodies. We can give each other gifts because God is redeeming wrapping paper, the gifts contained therein, and quite possibly even fruitcake. He is reconciling all things to Himself in Christ (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:22).
This is why it makes sense to feast. God has provided an abundance of bread for us in Christ; we can celebrate and be thankful by eating the abundance of bread he’s put on our table. Actually, one reason we have so much food is because Jesus came to make His blessing flow far as the curse is found. Buy a nice, big turkey and know that the reason that turkey is so big is that God granted goodwill to all people at the first Christmas.
Decorations and lights—now they all make sense. Lights can represent Christmas brilliantly. Evergreen trees and wreaths can be representative of eternal life that Jesus brought us. Are these things pagan? Honestly, the origins of so many traditions are so foggy it’s not hardly worth researching anymore. You can celebrate with a tree if you want (or not), but make sure you know why you do it.
People who celebrate so lavishly might look silly. And if they’re celebrating with no reason, I suppose they are silly. But morbid facial expressions and a dirge hardly seem appropriate to those who are on the winning side. When you know what God has done in Christ to reconcile you and the whole world to Himself, how could you not rejoice?
Christmas Yet to Come
I can’t pretend to know whether or not there will be Christmas in the New Heavens and New Earth. But I do know that there will be a great deal of celebrating—celebrating for the same sorts of reasons that we celebrate Christmas now.
I don’t know that we’ll need evergreens to remind us of the eternal life that we’ll then be fully enjoying. We won’t need Christmas lights, because we will have fullness of light in God (Revelation 22:5). But we’ll still rejoice because the people that walked in darkness saw a great light at Christmas and that light will have only become more visible.
It’s morning now and the sun is visible, but there is coming a time of cloudless noonday—a time of joyful squinting in the face of unimaginable glory. The people who saw by the light of a lamp could hardly imagine our morning, but they rejoiced at it. We have much more light and we can see the Sun, but we rejoice as we wait for the day when we have an entirely unobstructed and gloriously bright view of a completely redeemed world.
This is the part of the story where the fundamentalist, Christmas-hating zombie is supposed to wake up and wonder how all of that was explained to him in just one night. He’s then supposed to go out and be charitable, put on a giant feast, and greet everyone with a “Merry Christmas!”
I do pray that—even if you weren’t a fundamentalist zombie—you were encouraged by this post and moved to rejoicing in God’s message of good news to all people.
To paraphrase Tiny Tim, “God blessed us, every one.”
Note: This post had originally been posted on another website which is no longer being actively maintained. It’s been reposted here at the recommendation of a couple friends.