It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That’s what the song says so it has to be true…right? I do enjoy the holidays, though mostly for selfish reasons. I get to overeat and overdrink. I get to spoil my kids. I get to sit on the couch under a warm blanket all day, because it’s too cold and snowy outside without feeling guilty about being lazy. I get to drink “the Nog” and eat a wide variety of my mother’s Christmas cookies. I might even get to look forward to a Christmas bonus.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Christmas for Christians is obviously a great time of year (For the record…I like Easter better…you know the cross and resurrection). But Christmas is a great celebration of the birth of our Redeemer. The birth of Christ is epic and easily understandable by people of all ages. There is, however, something that really bothers me about this time of year. It’s really not specific to the holiday season, but rears its ugly head as we travel to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can’t choose my family, and honestly I wouldn’t want to. I’d get sick and tired of a bunch of Nathan’s walking around the house being unsocial and grouchy unless they had a cocktail in their hand. I love my family and would never want to change them. I hope you love your family, too. Even with their sin…they are still family.
Over the years, though, I have come to a stronger realization that while it’s great to be with family for Christmas, there is pain deep down inside me I can’t shake. We’re standing next to our family maybe holding a candle in the dark while singing Silent Night (Lutherans love doing that) and we wonder about their faith. Is their faith centered on Jesus Christ? Or is their faith in their love for family or for this earthly life and everything it offers? Here the pain comes in. The pain that someone we love may be outside the faith. That they are putting their faith in things they shouldn’t. This especially becomes more painful as we watch people age. Watching parents and grandparents get older is hard enough, but throw on top of that the fact that their inevitable death without faith in Jesus will be far worse than their bodily death. I’m sure to others like me, who put their faith completely in Jesus; this can be quite depressing around the holidays.
How are we to celebrate such a great gift that may not be believed by the ones we love? Who is to blame? How can we help the ones we love?
There is plenty of blame to go around. Let’s look in the mirror. After all, we always like talking about ourselves, although this won’t make us feel good. We fail in our confession to others. We would rather be comfortable then confess the gospel of Jesus Christ. We’d rather keep things positive and friendly. I’m not a very confrontational person. I’d like to think with family I could speak my mind knowing they will still love me after I lovingly tell them about the faith. Yet I don’t. Instead my personal comfort is more important than proclaiming the gospel. My sin of being comfortable and not wanting to “Rock the Boat” quickly kills my chance to proclaim the Gospel at the best time of year. It’s hard, and I’ll be honest, I have yet to have true conversations with the people I love.
I don’t think writing articles and posting them on Facebook counts. I suppose I could randomly yell out JESUS while we are opening presents, but I don’t think it’d do much good. Of course we can’t forget the world’s role in diminishing the Gospel during the holidays. Happy Holidays has replaced Merry Christmas and buying presents and drinking “The Nog” has replaced the birth of Jesus. The whole time the ultimate Grinch, the devil, laughs as Jesus gets pushed behind the Christmas tree with all the leftover wrapping paper and candy cane wrappers. I also blame the church. Many churches have taken to the preaching of love instead of the preaching of Christ. When people begin to think Christianity is about love, then they logically begin to realize they can get love outside the church. Besides, the love outside the church in the everyday world is far more appealing to our sinful flesh than the love shown to us in the church. We sinners prefer to find God in our own personal view of what love is than in the love God shows us in His church — the real love He shows us in His Word, in baptism and in the holy body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper. This is where God comes to us with pure grace and yet we look to things of this world to find His love. The church points us back to Christ, and the world will never do that. Family and friends outside the faith need to be pointed back to the church so the church and its gifts can point them back to Christ. Giving them a bible and telling them to read it might work, and I would never say that the Holy Spirit couldn’t bring someone to faith in that way, but being in the fellowship of other believers is a great gift of God that should never been taken for granted.
I have talked to friends about this issue. This struggle with sharing the Gospel with family and friends is difficult. My advice (I always like to preface my advice by saying “what do I know about anything?”) is to first remember how you came to faith. Remember your baptism. Remember God has shown you mercy in Jesus Christ, which is pure gift. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. God gets all the credit for the faith we have in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is working on your family and friends in His own way and own time. Remember you’re a sinner just like your family members and friends. Jesus died on the cross for them, as much as He did for you. Jesus is the first and most important piece of advice. Confess His name – instead of just shouting His name while opening presents. Talk about what He did for the world. After that suggest they come to church with you or attend a faithful church — a church that preaches Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and gives those sinners the gifts of God (though you might have to hunt for it). Finally, pray for them and all unbelievers that they may come to faith in Jesus Christ.
We will continue to sin against our family and friends. We will continue to fail them. It’s no wonder why we put our faith in Jesus Christ alone. His confession was perfect. While we fail to confess the Gospel to our family and friends, Jesus hung bleeding on the cross to give us all a perfect confession. When we go days, months and even years without talking to our family and friends about the Gospel, Jesus lived days, months, years and His whole life without sin for us all. Let us pray in our days left here that God’s Word and His gifts of grace will continue to strengthen our faith so we might confess His name and the Holy Spirit might work in bringing our family and friends to faith in Christ alone.
The holidays can really be the most wonderful time of the year, because it points us back to the birth of Christ and ultimately to His cross. Our family and friends have the same salvation in Christ. His life, death and resurrection are for them. The resurrection and everlasting life are also for them and “The Nog” will surely be abundant.