by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2012

As I write this, it is still 2011 and Christmas specials have only recently stopped running on TV, so pardon me for still having Christmas on the brain. The 2011 Christmas season brought all the old favorite specials plus a couple of new ones. One interesting new special was “Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas,” based on the animated “Ice Age” movies. While I normally wouldn’t object to animals celebrating Christmas, the animals in question in this case were primarily a family of wooly mammoths living during the last major Ice Age, hence the title. Unfortunately, the last ice age ended in about 8000 BC and the truly large specimens of wooly mammoth became extinct at that time, although a few smaller species remained until about 2500 BC. Still, that’s BC, as in Before Christ. And, of course, without Christ, there could be no Christmas. Which means mammoths couldn’t have celebrated Christmas even if they were capable of celebrating holidays. My wife, Charlotte, says this is simply an example of “Hollywood Magic” but as far as I’m concerned it’s still wrong.

Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon: Christ is conspicuously missing from almost all the standard Christmas fare. Of the older films, only 1946’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” mentions God directly and the only mention of Jesus is relegated to the singing of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” at the end. And while I dearly love “White Christmas,” and look forward to seeing it each year, instead of Christ, the focus is on—well—snow. There’s even a song about snow.

The relatively recent 1965 special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” features Charlie Brown’s question, “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” And Linus calmly replies, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” and proceeds to quote  Luke 2:8-14—in the King James Version, no less—from memory. Another animated special, “The Night The Animals Talked,” from 1970, was based on a Norwegian legend that the animals in the barn where Jesus was born received the ability to speak that night and were supposed to spread the news of Christ’s birth. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been on TV in years but I remember it fondly. One local pastor refers to secular Christmas stories as “worthless tales.” I wouldn’t necessarily go that far. These stories frequently teach worthwhile lessons and positive values but they do miss the point of Christmas. Values alone cannot save us; only Christ can do that.

The “Rich young ruler” (Matt. 19:16-26, Mark 10:17-26, Luke 18:18-27) thought he had all the values anyone could possibly need: “‘All these [commandments] I have kept from my youth.’” (Luke 18:21b ESV). But Jesus told him, “‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’” (vs. 22b ESV). This same Christ continues to challenge our values, lay bare our sin, and prompt us to action.

Sometimes I think there should be two spellings of “Christmas”: “christmas,” spelled with a lower case “c,” to represent the secular, gift-giving, warm and fuzzy values holiday; and “Christmas,” with a capital “C,” for the Christian, birth of Christ, Holy Day.

We’re the ones who are supposed to know the difference, who understand capital “C” Christmas and who live as capital “C” Christians. The ones who know Christ is central to both, who know that only he can save and transform sinners like us. And beyond knowing, the ones who are willing to let Christ and Christmas make a difference in our lives.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” (Luke  2:8-14 KJV.)

Copyright © 2012 by David Phelps