by Douglas Wilson
Once, when word of our opinions on the importance of Christmas had gotten out, we had some worried folks send us stuff. One of the things we received was a perfectly foul little tract entitled Xmas written by A.W. Pink. Mr. Pink was an honored servant of Christ and was used wonderfully by God in many ways— particularly through his book The Sovereignty of God.
At the same time, he was clearly driven by some personal pietistic demons, had trouble envisioning a Christian life outside his head, and ended his life isolated from virtually everyone. After reading this tract on Xmas, it is not hard to see why.
In the course of this tract, Mr. Pink answers the argument that Christmas should be kept “on the ground of ‘giving the kiddies a good time.’” He responds that this can be done without dragging the Savior’s name into it. And besides, he adds, where does Scripture “stipulate that it is our duty to give the little ones a ‘good time?’”
As we consider how God would have us bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), this issue of Christmas provides us with a good litmus test—and it does not concern whether we criticize Christmas, but from what direction. There is much to object to in our current holiday activities, but what is the ground of the criticism? What is the standard?
We believe that in our culture the Christmas celebrations are far too anemic. But the standard criticism of Christmas from ascetic Christians is that it is far too robust and celebratory.
Consider some of the words and phrases used by Pink: merrymaking, fleshly gratification, carnal jollification, exchanging “gifts,” and you get the idea.
Like Pink, we want to criticize Christmas. But unlike him, we want to do so from another direction. Christian parents need to take care that they do not stumble their little ones by refusing to teach them how to honor God through dancing, eating too much, drinking Tom and Jerries, giving presents, making fudge, shoveling the walk, eating fudge, calling family across the country, cleaning up the wrapping paper mess, and doing all this while supervised by the glorious account from Luke. “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus . . .” (Lk. 2:1). Why do we not know how to do this well?
The first problem is that we have misplaced our celebratory priorities. While it is certainly lawful for the Church to set aside a particular day for this kind of celebration, it is not lawful for us to scrupulously observe a day like this while neglecting the Lord’s Day, which was given us by God directly. Everyone who is zealous for Christmas but dismissive of the Lord’s Day is guilty of inverted priorities.
But the reason many have drifted away from weekly celebration of the Lord’s Day is that they have come to believe that sabbatarian observance is a dirge-like activity. But this is not sabbath-keeping, but rather sabbath-breaking with a long, pietistic face on. The Bible says that the sabbath is a festival (Lev. 23:2). The New Testament says that it is a day for having a feast (Jude 12; 1 Cor. 5:8). This is the day that the Lord has made, consequently, we will rejoice and be glad in it.
This leads us to the second problem. Because we do not celebrate weekly, we are way out of shape when it comes to our annual celebrations. We don’t do this enough, and like everything else, disciplined diligence here requires practice, practice, practice. We at least know that the annual event is supposed to be celebratory, but when it arrives, we don’t have the stamina for it. This is because we don’t observe the Lord’s Day at all, or, if we do, we observe it like it was a quiet morning at the library.
A third problem is that we have accepted the “antimaterialism” claims of many modern-day gnostics. We may have the financial resources to really get into it, but this nagging guilt plucks at our elbow. Children are starving, but Paul tells Christians who are well off to do four basic things: don’t be haughty, second, do not trust in riches, be generous and willing to share, and last, remember that God gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17–18). Refusal to enjoy and share God’s gifts is disobedience. The White Witch wanted to know the reason for this “self-indulgence,” and Judas it was who had a heart for the poor. A neglect of these principles, which can be clearly seen in holiday celebrations, is more than neglect of “the kiddies.” It is neglect of children, and thus neglect of future generations, and thus contempt for the covenant. The attitude is all wrong.
Pink asks, “Does any Christian reader imagine for a moment that when he or she shall stand before their holy Lord, that they will regret having lived ‘too strictly’ on earth?” To this the preacher replies, “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself ?” (Ecc. 7:16). There is a kind of pietism which cannot stand before the Lord and ever say, “Here am I, and the children you have given me.” This cannot be said because the children were all chased off to Vanity Fair by prim and proper Christians, with their lowered eyebrows and pursed lips, their motive scratchings, their emotional stinginess, and insistence on filling homes with the aroma of death.
They sought to honor the beauty of holiness by making an ugly face, and it scared the children away.