The Christmas Eve message at churches in Waco and beyond almost certainly will highlight or incorporate the mystical, enthralling story of Jesus’ birth as the world’s savior. Yet a new Pew Research Center poll finds fewer Americans believe Jesus was born to a virgin, wise men were guided to Jesus by a star or an angel announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds — all key elements of the Christmas story.
And while nine in 10 Americans and 95 percent of Christians in America celebrate Christmas — fairly consistent with past years — Pew survey findings note that the role of religion in Christmas is in decline. Forty-six percent say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday as opposed to a “cultural” festivity, down from 51 percent in 2013. Millennials are particularly reluctant to view Christmas as a religious holiday. Other studies suggest doubts among millennials about the Christian faith, especially what passes in the popular perception as the white evangelical movement.
Some Christians thunder down from on high that all this is evidence of a materialistic, hedonistic, godless world. No doubt. Yet one must ask if Christians should be looking inward for at least part of the cause. What example is set for millennials and others to consider when they see Christian leaders condemning neighbors and strangers alike with the fury of an Old Testament god rather than conveying the charity and compassion of Jesus Christ? His merciful, inclusive, reflective qualities distinguish much of the New Testament.
Every time some Scripture-quoting politician among us is permitted to wrap himself in Christian garb while preaching ideas that actually defy Christ’s teachings, Christianity becomes less compelling, less viable in a doubting world. And when Christian leaders endorse such politicians and rationalize away their sins in the name of political power, they often anoint false messiahs, mislead their own disciples and corrupt the very faith they pretend to champion and cherish.
One doesn’t have to look far for this shallowness infecting much of the Christian faith today. Every year about this time holier-than-thou sorts get outraged at the notion someone would dare say “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.” They often announce this to all via social media — quite obviously to burnish their own Christian credentials. Their claims ultimately are about ego, self-glorification and conflict. If they think this will bolster Christianity, they’re sadly mistaken.
Christmas, an intimate, reassuring time for family and friends and possibly even deep contemplation about Christ’s role in our world, offers Christians an opportunity to get right with the New Testament’s lessons. While the oft-cited Ten Commandments might seem a good starting place in terms of societal values, the Beatitudes delivered by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount and chronicled in Matthew would certainly get Christians and non-Christians closer to the humility, love and charity Christianity is all about. These include regard for the poor and the powerless and an attitude of peace and mercy. Question: Are today’s Christians up to this spiritual and societal challenge once Christmas is done? Who knows? Greater miracles have happened.