So This Is Christmas
That much of the world no longer has a clue as to the real meaning of Christmas goes without saying. And each passing year it tends to get worse – at least in the West. As but one quick example, in today’s Melbourne Age there were two opinion pieces by atheists telling us we don’t need Jesus to enjoy Christmas! See my thoughts about this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/12/20/why-does-the-age-hate-christianity/
But what I wish to discuss here concerns a news item which appeared recently in the press. The headline read as follows: “Cosmetic surgery booms as Christmas nears”. Here are the first few paragraphs of this rather disturbing article:
“Breast implants, facelifts and other cosmetic procedures are booming in the lead-up to Christmas. Peter Callan, president of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, said there was a spike in all cosmetic surgery procedures as the holiday season approached. Breast augmentation, fillers and anti-wrinkle treatments were the most in demand.
“‘Christmas is an artificial deadline for many people – they want to get things done by then,’ he said. ‘Cosmetic surgery and cosmetic enhancements are no exception to the rule.’ Most women seeking breast augmentation were in their 20s and 30s, while those after botox and wrinkle fillers were generally in their 30s and 40s, Mr Callan said.
“Anoop Rastogi, a cosmetic surgeon specialising in breast implants, agreed that there was an ‘explosion’ at this time of year. Many women having breast augmentation timed the surgery so they could be ready for Christmas and the summer holidays. ‘It starts in September, October and ends in February,’ he said.
“‘The number of breast augmentations that I do at that time is twice what I do for the rest of the year combined’. Bryan Mendelson, a Toorak-based cosmetic surgeon, said rhinoplasty was also popular as school leavers prepared for university. ‘There’s a group of students finishing VCE who want to get their noses fixed,’ he said.
“‘For rhinoplasty surgeons, it’s one of the busy times.’ Despite the seasonal demand, however, surgeons warn that such procedures should never be given as Christmas gifts.”
I dare say that for most of the past two thousand years, cosmetic surgery was not the first thing that sprung to mind when discussions about Christmas arose. But we live in changing times, and the old message of Christmas has long ago been abandoned.
So instead of the good news about a Saviour born who offers real life-changing transformations to those who receive him, we instead have an unhealthy fixation on all things external, and on getting ‘the look’. Never mind that the transformation we all really need is an internal one.
The Christmas message is in fact about the ultimate personal makeover. It is a radically different and far more important makeover than cosmetic surgery. Jesus Christ is the greatest makeover artist, and he does more than perform mere cosmetic and superficial changes – he radically transforms us from within.
That is the story of Christmas: unto us a Saviour was born. That is good news, because we are all in desperate need of saving. We are all bound and lost in sin and selfishness. No amount of boob jobs or Botox treatments will ever cover up our really ugly interiors.
We need an inner makeover which we cannot ourselves even begin to attempt. The work has to be so deep and so thorough that none of us can perform self-surgery here. We need the divine doctor to perform radical open-heart surgery.
Our hearts, which are like stone, are in desperate need of a transplant. The good news of the gospel is that this is the very thing God promises to do on our behalf if we will let him. As we read in Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”.
That is why Jesus told us that we must be born again. Such major heart surgery is radical stuff, and there is no way a bit of self-improvement on our part will deal with the crisis we face. Indeed, we are told that we are dead in our trespasses and sins.
Now a dead person does not need therapy, renovation, or a mere makeover. He needs resurrection. And only Jesus Christ can offer us this. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
And he also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). The good news of Christmas is a Saviour has been born who lived and died, and rose again, so that we can have the ultimate makeover, one which will be good for all of eternity.
At the end of the day, all those breast enhancements will just not cut it. No matter how much Botox you pump into your face, you still will eventually get old, wrinkly, and lose ‘the look’. When you are on your death bed, you won’t really give a rip about how pert your tummy is or how cute your nose is.
The only makeover that will last is the one that transforms our souls and makes us right with our Maker. That is why the first Christmas took place. Jesus came to perform the world’s most important makeover. We had all better avail ourselves of it.
It is the only radical surgery worth having. And its impact will last forever. Merry Christmas.
22 Replies to “So This Is Christmas”
Thanks Bill. Let me draw your attention to a hymn by Charles Wesley, known in the Methodist and Anglican traditions (where they still sing hymns instead of the now-popular – and rather vacuous – choruses). The mystical elements towards the end of the hymn are attributable to Wesley’s contacts with Greek Orthodox clergy.
Let earth and heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity;
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.
He laid His glory by,
He wrapped Him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of day he here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s Name.
See in that Infant’s face
The depths of deity,
And labour while ye gaze
To sound the mystery
In vain; ye angels gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.*
Unsearchable the love
That hath our Saviour brought;
The grace is far above
Or man or angel’s thought;
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.
He deigns in flesh to appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.
Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
Then shall His love be fully showed,
And man shall then be lost in God.
Murray R Adamthwaite
Inner makeover is something that is not immediate gratification and so will be misunderstood or blatantly scoffed at as I found during the years I was prop of two beauty salons. In the end I got out of the outer makeover business and spent time on the mission field. Currently now we still want the hype of entertainment, the outer feel good while the message of Jesus was to spend face to face time discipling others. I hear your frustration in many of your articles probably underlaid with sadness with those who are chasing the wind. Life is so so short, my mum is 85 and I am almost 65 and it gets tiring chasing the wind.
Christmas is about Him, not us. Strange, isn’t it, that most of us give gifts to everyone else, except the one whose birthday we celebrate. Let’s keep the Jesus Christ the central main reason for this season.
Thanks for preaching the truth Bill. Christmas isn’t about looking good or even feeling good. What we celebrate is God reaching down and providing a way up, a way we could never obtain on our own but only through his grace.
Wow Murray – that hymn is amazing! ‘To make us all divine’- perhaps Wesley was a universalist? Who knows! I just saw a doco on Churchill by his granddaughter and she was saying that 15 years before his death, he had made peace with His maker, but wasn’t sure what His maker, would make of him! Churchill was joking, but I don’t doubt he was ready to meet his saviour – he said he had no regrets, he had made big mistakes, but wouldn’t want to live his life again, he had done it once and that was enough. The doco stated that Churchill was depressed with what he saw as the iron curtain & the battle against communism – he was tired and just wanted to go. I’m tired of the world winning and seeing the dismantling of the Christian west, but I am called to fight the good fight of faith and be faithfull in doing my little bit. You are faithfull Bill, as a watchman and I thank you for it and wish you and you family a Merry Christmas and a blessed new year.
Neil Innes, NT
Many thanks Neil
As to Wesley, no he was not a universalist. But to the extent that he was influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy, as Murray suggests, the concept of divinisation (or theosis) is a big part of their theology. But that would be worth an article as well some time.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Bill – I am more ambivalent to the celebration of Christmas than Easter (Passover). Apart from differences between the Orthodox and Catholic calenders, we can all agree that the Lord died and rose again at the time of the Passover, as the true Lamb of God. This accomplished his primary work on Earth. Despite eggs, bunnies and pacifist marches the message of Easter is still the main theme for that time of year.
Christmas however is generally acknowledged as being the churches attempt to supplant a Roman pagan mid-winter festival.
I had to attend a Kris Kringle at work a week ago, and of course there are so many fat red suited men (and women) appearing – and rain deer horns on cars this year – that I have almost given up. It seems the pagans want to reposess it, and I am not that uncomfortable about letting them have it back – given its dubious origins.
Actually I am more ambivalent about those who make a big stink about the supposed pagan roots of Christmas (not that you are doing this, but some believers do go on and on about it). For a balanced appraisal of the issue, see this for starters:
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thanks so much for Gregory Koukl’s article, Bill.
Please accept my sincere wishes for a happy and holy Christmas and may God bless you and your family.
Peter Murnane, Sydney
There are plenty of other such articles I can point people to. Maybe I will have to write my own one day, since this issue seems to crop up each Christmas.
Have a great Christmas as well.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Dear Bill, Your holy anger overflowed in the Age review.
God will use that vehemence for God is angry with the wicked every day.
I bless the Lord that you have taught us to courageously defend the indisputable Word of God.
The Lord’s benediction be on you and your loved ones this holy season. ‘Born this day a Savior, Christ the Lord’.
I accepted your challenge and wrote to the Age thus…
In the Coral Sea battle, the Lord halted the enemy advance to preserve the principles and privileges of our Christian nation. You have demeaned the veterans of 1942-43 of the 2/9 Australian General Hospital (2000 beds) at the foot of the Kokoda Trail of which I was part. Sir, you owe withdrawal of the article and apology to the veterans. Your closing comment ‘by Christ’ is blasphemous, and you merit the Father’s judgment for such.
Sorry, but i get very tired of the term ‘real meaning of christmas’.
I don’t see Jesus or the NT anywhere commanding believers to set aside a certain day every year to remember His birth…Now i’m not going into the ‘pagan origins of christmas’ etc… i couldn’t care less about that, but what i get tired of is the sweeping idea that it’s almost implied that all christians are expected to get into the ‘real meaning of christmas…
I’m not into either the consumerist xmas period or the ‘religious traditional’ idea.
Now i’m not condemning those who do celebrate dec 25th as Jesus birthday, because we are saved by grace – not by what we do or don’t do.
However, it seems like there is no allowance for those christians who don’t get into the christmas period at all. I like to remember and ponder the massive significance of the Incarnation at any time…maybe even make a daylong celebration of it, but i will not be forced to almost make the dec 25th day some kind of proof of being a believer.
But you entirely miss the point – at least of my article. My article had nothing whatsoever to do with forcing believers to celebrate Christmas. No one has to if they don’t want to. But that is not the issue. My target was all the weak-minded secularists who go on about how they too can celebrate what Christmas means but without Christ. That is my gripe here, and one hopefully you would agree with. All this pagan talk about love, joy and peace during the season makes no sense of course without the Prince of Peace.
There would be no Christmas celebrations if it were not for Christ. Pagans always want to live on the borrowed spiritual capital of Christianity at times like this, little realising that without Christ, they simply cannot. Sure, they can have warm gooey feelings and so on, but that is not what Christmas really means. So that was the only point on my article.
If you want absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, that is entirely up to you. No one – certainly not me – is forcing you to enjoy it, recongise it, or celebrate it, if you are not into it. If people want to be a Scrooge here, fine, but they shouldn’t spoil it for those who do want to celebrate it!
And if you don’t mind me saying so – Merry Christmas!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I’m not commenting on this article in particular but that phrase ‘real meaning of christmas’, which gets tossed around incredibly much.
And i’m not out to destroy it for those who choose to make dec 25th a significant day(which i mentioned in my first post), but it’s very easy for any christians who don’t follow this to be called a ‘scrooge’, marginilised at least, and even their faith questioned at most…
May the Lord bless you and your vital ministry. May you and you family – indeed, everyone who visits this site – have a blessed Christmas, and may we all bless the Lord each and every day of the New Year.
This is my pray for you all:
BE AT PEACE:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
Be at peace with yourself;
The Prince of Peace dwells in you,
And in Him you have peace.
Be at peace with each other
And live in peace with each other,
For Jesus himself is our peace.
Make every effort to live in peace with all men.
Yes, live at peace with everyone
For God has called us to live in peace.
God is a God of peace,
Therefore you must seek peace and pursue it;
So guide your feet into the path of peace.
The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;
Found also by following the gospel of peace.
Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.”
Therefore we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember, there is peace in heaven and glory in the highest.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father
And from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul de la Garde, Sydney
Many thanks indeed Paul.
Merry Christmas and blessings to you and yours as well.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Bill, thanks for the link to the Koukl article. All I can say is that he makes the best case for a bad cause. In fact, he makes several postulates that are contentious. For example, the assertion that circumcision is original with the Egyptians (and God merely adapted it for Abraham) depends on (i) chronology, which I believe is inflated with respect to the Bible; and (ii) the interpretation of the scene in the Ankh-ma-Hor tomb of the Sixth Dynasty. While commonly held to depict circumcision it could depict castration, as a preliminary to entry into the Egyptian priesthood. Whatever, the obvious is all too often missed: the ritual in that scene is performed on boys of perhaps 8 – 12 years of age, not 8 day old babies! In short, I don’t believe Koukl has made his case.
My own position on Christmas is that of Stephen White (above): I’m tired of hearing rhetoric about “the true meaning of Christmas”. It has become thoroughly secular and pagan. Let the pagans have what is their own. Meanwhile, let the Christians observe the Nativity (if we’re going to do it at all) at some other time of the year. But this view is not invoking the “pagan origin” bit; it is simply an observation on the present circumstances.
However, this is not to deny your essential point, that Christmas for at least 1600 years has been Christian, and for atheists to be claiming that we can have this festival stripped of any Christianity at all is sheer piracy – but they’re good at that. Whatever the pagan origins of Christmas subsequent history cannot be ignored, and atheists have no right to hijack a Christian festival for their own godless purposes.
Murray R Adamthwaite
One main reason why the world celebrate Christmas the way it does is because it is becoming a common thing among preachers to deemphasise Christ in their gospel in favour of wealth and success. Even Christians live like permanent residents and citizens of planet earth, not as pilgrims looking forward to their new Jerusalem. We consciously or unconsciously go along with the declaration that he who dies with the most toys wins.
It’s becoming a common trend for preachers to preach an inclusive gospel. An exclusive gospel with orthodox doctrines are slowly giving way to new emergent ideas. Even Billy Graham is so ecumenical that he believes in a wider mercy inclusive gospel, where a Hindu or Buddhists or any other beliefs are still members of the body of Christ. Unbelievable. It confuses even christians and make some want to opt out. So can we blame the world for not fully understanding Christmas.
Bill, if I may, I think I understand what you’re getting at to a point. It reminds me very much of the Christian movie “Time Changer” where the theme was centered around a debate about whether or not the values and morals of Christianity still retain their worth without Christ Himself. In the end, it was determined that the ethics of Christianity were indeed impotent without the person of Christ. I submit that I interpret your original article as being thoughts along these lines, with pagans attempting to hijack the (Christian) spirit of the Christmas celebration but without Christ.
On the other hand, may I offer a slight admonishment in that I think you were a little hard on the folks here who are trying to point out that indeed the Christmas holiday itself was hijacked by Christians back in the day, and now the pagans want it back. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this because the date was not ours to begin with, and as others have said, the early believers were never recorded as having a special date at all to recognize the Savior’s birth. Certainly its permissible to do as such, and in fact I would recommend it being a bit more often than annually. Many good songs and much good literature has resulted from Christmas indeed. For me, having migrated from Wisconsin to Australia, this is my first Christmas Down Under, and I have to say, it feels nothing like Christmas at all. I just got back from the beach with my family, bodyboarding and enjoying the weather. My relatives back home are snowed in and enjoying their bitter cold and white winter wonderland. That is what Christmas “feels like” to me, not summertime at the beach. So I think we as a family will probably celebrate Christmas in July instead, when it gets dark early and we can decorate our fake tree and sit around the fireplace with soothing tunes about holiness playing in the background. The tradition is what you make of it, and “when” you make it. But I do acknowledge your original point regarding Christian imitation without the person of Jesus Christ and how pointless it is. This is indeed a very very good thing to remember!
A thing I find thrilling about this time is the music. Many of the carols were written by people who believed the gospel and they are memorised and sung by the general public. Powerful theological statements are made and heard e.g. “Our Heavenly Lord..Who hath made heaven and earth of nought and with His blood mankind hath bought” and “..veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity”. Not to mention Handel’s ‘Messiah’ which is all Christ-centred Scripture following the ‘scarlet thread’ from Genesis to Revelation. We’ve got a lot to lose if we abandon Christmas. I believe that awkward as it can sometimes be (cf Leunig’s Last Minute Shopper) we have to see Christmas as our opportunity to lift Jesus and spread the truth.
And here’s a long ‘plug’ for a worthy TV show Bill. You may want to edit it, comment or refer to the link.
Christian Television Australia has prepared a special TV program for this Christmas. It’s called ‘Should we Cancel Christmas?’ and will be screened on Channel 7 on Christmas Day at 8am (and on Australian Christian Channel at 5.30 pm.)
There are also radio versions in MP3 that can be downloaded – details of that below – or click here.
Here’s what they say on their website… http://www.christiantelevision.org.au/
“Every year, Christmas seems to get busier and busier,” said ..the program’s Producer/Director, Martin Johnson. “It’s stressful and many people struggle emotionally. When you also consider that we have largely lost the Christian heritage of Christmas, maybe its time to ask if we should cancel it altogether?” he said.
Program host Karl Faase looks at three aspects of Christmas.
1. The economic and social impact of Christmas: “Social researcher Mark McCrindle reveals that Christmas is worth $20 billion when you measure the economic and societal impact of the Christmas period.”
2. The history behind the event: Professor Alanna Nobbs from the Ancient History Department of Macquarie University explains how historians can know whether something actually happened or not.
“Professor Nobbs clearly shows us that the events of the first Christmas, as set out in the Biblical account, are reliable and trustworthy,” Karl said.
The program also has a rare look at a piece of an original manuscript from the New Testament, dating back to the first century, which is owned by the university.
3. Finally the program looks at how the events of the first Christmas can still affect people today. “Professor Ian Harper talks about his own journey of coming to faith and how one Christmas Day, he came to the realisation that the Christian faith was based on a real event and that he needed to make a decision to accept it or not.”
Wishing you & yours a faith-filled Christmas.
I wanted to send some sort of holiday greeting to my friends and colleagues, but it is difficult in today’s world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. So I met with my lawyer yesterday, and on advice I wish to say the following :
Please accept with no obligation , implied or implicit , my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non addictive, gender neutral celebration of the summer solstice holiday practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious / secular persuasions and / or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.
I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2011 , but not without due respect for the calendar of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that Australia is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.
By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms :
This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her / him or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. The wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.
Best Regards (without prejudice)
Name withheld (Privacy Act).
As usual, a great article Bill and the article Is Christmas Pagan? by Gregory Koukl that you recommended in a comment above was well worth reading. I have just had a lot of questions answered.