December brings a burst of cheer and warmth amid the cold dregs of the year, not just among Christians, but all over the world. It is the time to commemorate and celebrate the climactic event of history, when the Creator entered His own creation. So great is its significance that it becomes probably the only festival so widely known all over the world irrespective of culture, language or nationality.
Throughout the history of the church there has been a difference of opinion among Christians with regard to the need or even validity of observing a day to mark the Saviour’s birth. Some have religiously observed this day as a liturgically significant time to bring glory to God for His great Gift. Some have denounced its observance as extra-biblical and unnecessary. After all, the Incarnation is a fundamental aspect of the Christian creed, of saving faith and is an everyday reason for a Christian’s praises; not just to be observed and remembered on a special day. Others find wisdom in Romans 14:5, neither to stipulate nor to condemn its observance among orthodox Christians. So it is today, that there are varying opinions among faithful Christians regarding what to do with Christmas.
Christians may or may not agree about celebrating Christmas, but one thing that all faithful believers and partakers of the Lord’s ministry share is their common zeal to make use of every opportunity to proclaim the good news. Like Paul in Philippians 1:18, they rejoice when the gospel is preached through whatever circumstance of God’s providence. As in Colossians 4:3-4, he prays and seeks an open door to proclaim the message and the mystery of Christ. The Christmas season brings a lot of opportunity for evangelism. Irrespective of whether one desires to observe this day or not, one can still seize the opportunity to bring glory to God by proclaiming Christ.
In a country like India, Christmas is one time of the year when the church has the ears of the unbelieving world right at their doorstep and when speaking about Christ is met with the least opposition. People know and acknowledge that it is a day set apart for Christians. It is not unfitting to talk of Christ, in spite of their intolerance and hostility towards evangelism at other times of the year. People are more willing to visit churches, read literature about Christ, listen to hymns sung about Christ, welcome carol groups to their homes or even visit and accept invitations to Christian homes. In my language, non-Christians call this day ‘Bordin’ or ‘Great Day’. When Paul was preaching at the Areopagus in Athens, he met an audience eager to listen, unlike the opposition he faced in Jerusalem or in Ephesus because it was a place where they would, ‘spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new’ (Acts 17:19-21). Paul made the most of that opportunity and environment to present a detailed account of the gospel. So in this season, when people are open to discuss Christ, it would be unfortunate to ignore the mission field right at our doorstep.
This huge opportunity for evangelism can be wasted in two ways. One is by reducing Christmas to nothing more than every other pagan holiday by mere feasting and indulging in frolic and buying expensive stuff; the things that unbelievers seek. The message of Christ does not cater to the appetite of the natural man. For Christians in India, Christmas must not be merely a holiday to rest from all work for mere feasting and fun, but a time for more labour. A time to be sober, fixing all his mind on the glory of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is that the Son of God became the Son of Man, so that we may become the children of God, and proclaim Christ to a Christless world. Another way to waste Christmas is to altogether ditch this opportunity by shunning everything related to Christmas. One can disagree with the celebration of Christmas by regarding it as an ordinary day, but can still make use of the opportunity to reach out to the masses and preach to them the Christ of Christ-mas.
There is a church in my city, which is not very biblically solid, but very renowned every Christmas. A huge crowd of young people come to the church to witness Christians celebrating Christmas and to be a part of the festivities. They offer candles to be lit as something that can earn merit and bring blessings, look around for some idol to pray to. Ultimately, they end up bowing before the ornate Christmas tree and leave after taking countless pictures. They are all for hearing about Christ that evening, but no one cares to speak to them about the reason Christ came to the world. I witnessed this during my early years as a believer. For some time our church tried to reach out to these young people, until we realized that our church should probably make arrangements to invite those interested to church on Christmas. Although, as a church we did not regard Christmas too highly.
On this day, most people have holidays and want to be a part of the festivities. They realize that the best way to know and witness more about the Christmas festival is by visiting a church. They come on their own will. Hundreds of people who are on their way to eternal damnation are at our reach to possibly snatch them from the great fire! Churches can organize some sort of program and invite their unbelieving friends, families, colleagues. The purpose is not to entertain unbelievers, but to proclaim the good news to them. The program can be arranged creatively, but it must be sober and gospel centred. Christians should desire ‘to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2). Individual Christians can consider inviting and sharing their dinner table that evening with their friends and colleagues and giving them Christ. Who knows, a Zacchaeus or a Levi could be saved over this dinner table or in the years to come because of this arrangement. It is, also, an opportunity to invite in strangers and the downtrodden (Lk. 14:14). Let the light of Christian hospitality shine before them. Most importantly preach to them Christ who is the only hope in this life and the one to come.
When Christ commissioned the church to proclaim the gospel he said, “go into all the world…” (Mk. 16:15). The burden of the church in evangelizing is about going out and reaching out to people and not merely hoping and waiting that they will show up to the church. Again, Christmas time is an opportune time to do this. The streets and marketplaces are flocked with people coming out to be a part of the festivities. But alas, people only have a false and distorted view of Christianity seeing all the commercialism, sins, partying and boozing that have been associated with the festival in present times. There is not a better time to preach to them about sin and that the “grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions……” (Tit. 2:12). For those weak and timid Christians (like myself) who constantly struggle to talk with strangers on the streets about Christ on most days, there is not an easier time than Christmas time. Churches can print tracts explaining the true meaning of Christmas and distribute them. Like Charles Spurgeon said, to those who struggle with evangelism, “Can’t you put a tract in your hat and drop it where you go?”
In our workplaces, offices and schools, as we share Christmas treats with our colleagues at their demand, it would be the least awkward time to also add a word or two about Christ and the hope of salvation in Him. Another good method that we have found in our place is to organize carol groups and visit houses. Most people are willing to invite us in. We have focused on preaching the gospel after we sing gospel centered hymns. Many homes that day are able to hear the message of Christ and the true meaning of Christmas which they otherwise would not come to know.
So this Christmas, as we gather to worship as a church and thank God for His great Gift in the morning and as we gather with our families and friends to celebrate by rejoicing in this merry season, let us not forget to, ‘lift up our eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest’ (Jn. 4:35). Let us redeem this time to bring the salve of the good news to a world that is soon burning. While the church must always be ready to preach the word out of season, even more so, it must be ‘in season’ when opportunities are teeming. Don’t waste Christmas!
Abir Kumar Baruah serves as the pastor of Grace Church Jorhat in Assam.