There is a war on Christmas, one of much greater magnitude than generally is reported.
It’s not a war against saying “Merry Christmas” or public nativity scenes or religious billboards, although sometimes opposition to these things takes place. Much more profoundly the war against Christmas is waged not seasonally or incidentally. It’s deliberate, sweeping, invasive, and brutal.
The true war on Christmas is an eternal war, one in which Satan seeks to dethrone the God of the universe and thwart His plan for those made in His image and likeness.
Of course, the Enemy’s efforts are futile. He can no more stop God than an amoeba can hoist Mt. Everest. But that doesn’t mean the devil will cease his vicious if ultimately useless efforts.
And that’s what the war on Christmas really is. Christmas is about God’s direct intervention into human history. As J.I. Packer wrote in his classic book, Knowing God:
“The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man— that the second person of the Godhead became the ‘second man’ (1 Cor. 15:47) … that He took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human … the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality.”
But why? Simply so we could be charmed by stories of cattle lowing and angels singing sweetly? No. The beauty of the nativity is indisputable and moving beyond words.
Yet it is a shadowed beauty, shaded by a Roman cross.
The cross represents Christ’s claim to be God in the flesh and the only way to, as He put it, “come to the Father.” It reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Savior. The cross heralds to all who see it that they have a need nothing can ever fulfill but the One who hung upon it.
The cross is an insult to the self-sufficiency and pride of all people. It is a visual affront to fallen men and women. In fairness, though, the people of our day who are offended by the cross, here and abroad, are hardly unique. Even the early church had a hard time with the cross.
In the ancient world, the cross was an object of fear and contempt. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Crucifixion was most frequently used to punish political or religious agitators, pirates, slaves, or those who had no civil rights.”
The first century Roman politician Cicero wrote that “the very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things or the endurance of them, but … the expectation, no, the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen.”
Historian Bobby Kelly, writing in 2012, notes that “In the case of a Jew, the shame (of the cross) was further heightened by the belief that ‘anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse’ (Deuteronomy 21:23), a curse Paul cited in relation to Jesus’ crucifixion (in Galatians 3:13). In order to enhance the event as deterrent, crucifixions did not take place in isolated areas but on well-traveled routes … The public display of the naked victim was all about pain and shame.”
The late John Stott, in his landmark book, The Cross of Christ, summarizes it this way: “The Christians’ choice of the cross as the symbol of their faith is more surprising when we remember the horror with which crucifixion was regarded in the ancient world. We can understand why Paul’s ‘message of the cross’ was, to many of his listeners, ‘foolishness,’ even ‘madness’ … How could any sane person worship as a god a dead man who had been justly condemned as a criminal and subjected to the most humiliating form of execution? This combination of death, crime, and shame put Him beyond the pale of respect, let alone worship.”
Yet as Paul taught the church in Corinth:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1:21-25)
An instrument of torture and death became the means by which God’s Son atoned for our sins. An empty tomb proves it. And in dying for our sins, Christ won an eternal victory no fallen angel or fallen man can ever overturn.
The war against God, sin, and death — the demonic war against Christ’s incarnation, sinless life, redemptive death, and glorious resurrection – was won when a baby was born in Bethlehem. Christians live in the triumph of that victory every day. There is no better reason to be merry, at Christmas time or any other.
Rob Schwarzwalder, a graduate of Western Seminary (Portland, OR), is a long-time member of the Evangelical Theological Society.