It never ceases to amaze me how much fighting takes place over the celebration of Christmas. Legal battles about public displays of crèche or Christmas trees are fodder for the news media. One of the most bizarre examples was when Jewish comedian Jackie Mason made news by standing up to stores that banned employees from wishing shoppers a Merry Christmas.” The headlines read, “Jackie Mason Saves Christmas.”
Have you ever felt like you were in the middle of a skirmish just trying to find a parking place or navigating your way through the local shopping mall during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas? It’s like a battle zone out there.
Let’s not forget the travel wars. I have vowed not to get on an airplane, if at all possible, between December 10 and January 1. But sometimes it is unavoidable and so I join my fellow trekkers enduring the long struggle to negotiate the overcrowded airports, airplanes, bus terminals and freeways.
Then there is the growing number of Christians against Christmas. These are the folks who assiduously renounce all things associated with Christmas due to their conviction that it is a pagan holiday. I will receive letters from some of these good people just for writing this article.
But the truth is, all these conflicts are insignificant compared to the real “Christmas warfare” dating all the way back to first-century Bethlehem of Judea. That battle deserves more attention than any of the annoying inconveniences or seasonal disagreements over traditions and their meanings. Even images of idyllic manger scenes and the beauty of carols and candlelight services can soften or sometimes even shroud our understanding of that battle. The real war—the life and death struggle for the future of the world, of all humanity—should never be forgotten!
We can’t know the exact point in time, but December 25 is the day that a majority of Christians choose to commemorate “D-Day” in this cosmic conflict of the ages. Selecting a date can help us focus on God’s holy invasion: The Creator of this world and everything in it came physically to reclaim His own, to defeat the forces of darkness and rescue every prisoner of war willing to be set free.
The Scriptures tell how the Incarnation—the birth of Jesus Christ—was central to the defeat of Satan and the rescue of sinners. Seeing Christmas in that light may help us push past all the other distractions and skirmishes of the season to find its deeper meaning.
I have never served in the military, but I’ve heard the language of warfare just by paying attention to news reports. No successful warfare is ever waged without having “boots on the ground.” It is just not possible to win and hold enemy territory without physically entering into the field of conflict. It is dangerous, costly, and always necessary. That danger, that cost, is exactly what lays behind the manger so often idealized by our artists and in our culture.
God did not seek to win the battle against sin through a detached, long- distance air war. He came into the thick of the conflict in the person of Yeshua (Jesus). The Scriptures tell us that “when He came into the world, He said: ‘… a body You have prepared for Me … Behold, I have come … to do Your will, O God'” (Hebrews 10:5,7).
Jesus was not drafted into the battle. He was an all-volunteer army of one. His incarnation as a baby in Bethlehem was an act of complete and willing obedience to the Father and a demonstration of His complete love for us, His lost creation. He endured the long separation from His home in glory and from a loving heavenly Father in order to engage and defeat the enemy, the ruler of this world. Jesus paid the ultimate price in order to win that war, to win our freedom. And those of us who have been rescued by His bravery have been commissioned to continue serving as His boots on the ground. Are we willing? Are we ready?
Any successful battle plan includes clear and unambiguous objectives. What could be more dangerous or discouraging than to find ourselves in the thick of the battle, wondering why we are fighting and what got us into the war to begin with? If we are following Jesus, then our objective is the same as His: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners …”(1 Timothy 1: 15).
God’s battle plan was never any mystery, nor were there any hidden costs involved. Yeshua was born to die, to give His life as a ransom for many. Christmas was always about the cross. When we think of the baby in the manger do we envision the man on the cross? God did. His purpose and saving grace was clear and established “before time began” (2 Timothy 1: 9). It was spelled out in many ways throughout the book of Isaiah, which was written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth.
How well do we carry on the clear communication of the Word made flesh? Are we ambiguous about our objectives on this planet? There is no doubt that Jesus lived life to the fullest. The Bible tells us that He grew “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” He laughed, He dined, He celebrated weddings and holidays, but He never lost sight of His ultimate objective to save sinners. Neither should we.
One of the greatest problems in any campaign is a breakdown in communications. Plans fail, people die from “friendly fire” and entire battles are lost due to the confusion referred to as “the fog of war.” That is why God planned and executed His invasion using only the best and most reliable communication: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). No war is won without clear communication, and Jesus is exactly that—God’s clearest communication of truth, love and salvation to a lost and dying world. Jesus never minced words and He never obscured the truth in order to gain a greater following. His mission was paramount to any other consideration.
Yet the profound simplicity of His mission is often overlooked today. Some who misunderstand what it is to be “incarnational,” have insisted that since “actions speak louder than words,” any verbal witness for Christ must be preceded by demonstrations of the speaker’s justice and mercy. I have heard people say that unbelievers are not interested in what we have to say until they see what we will do. I don’t know whether they are speaking from their own experience, but I have to tell you, I have found many people to be interested in what we have to say, even strangers on the street corner who stop to take a tract, listen to our music or notice the writing on our T-shirts.
Please do not let anyone discourage you from giving a verbal witness on the grounds that you must first prove yourself worthy by your actions. In reality, good works and good words spring from the same place and the two go together. One is not more important than the other, nor does God tell us that they need to follow a certain order to be effective. It is His Spirit that wins hearts and it is only through His power that anything we say or do will make a difference.
God’s incarnational battle plan involved the Word becoming flesh and if we are to continue to follow His strategy ourselves, we must be prepared to use our actions and our words to proclaim Him, to communicate truth with the same precision as He did. The celebration of His incarnation provides us with many occasions to take actions and to speak words of clarity concerning His mission on earth. The season offers so many opportunities for us to shine the light of His truth that pierces through the fog of war—but only if we are willing to act and speak.
We don’t often associate Christmas with warfare, but it just may be that seeing things from that perspective this year will help us to be fully engaged in God’s purposes for us in this season. May we not miss a single opportunity He has for us to celebrate and make known the joy and meaning of His coming.