Second Week of Advent
December 3, 2007
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’ Matthew 3.3b
John the Baptist was a strange bird, wandering around in camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey. Just a guess, but he probably did not get a lot of party invitations during the holidays. If he were alive now, as opposed to beheaded by Herod way back when, John the Baptist would be wandering through every large retailer in the U.S. today trying to find a place for Jesus, much less a path for Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I have studied just enough economics to be dangerous, and I readily admit I believe in capitalism. Capitalism is the single fastest way to provide the greatest number of goods to the most number of people. I am a firm believer that stores ought to be able to sell what they want to sell. It is not Sears’ or Target’s responsibility to advertise the birth of Jesus Christ for the churches and for Christians. It is their responsibility to maximize profits for their shareholders. That is what retailers do. But here is the rub for me….
According to various and sundry emails I receive – not exactly the most widely respected source of factual material, I’ll grant – around 85% of American citizens are Christian. That number has actually dropped about seven to eight percent in the last fifteen or so years, but we are inclined to overlook that. George Barna, a more respected source for data, claims that about forty percent of adults are “self-defined, born-again Christians,” as opposed to the more regular, plain-clothes-type of churchgoer, I suppose. Actually, I would debate his definitions on technicalities, but the implication is that forty percent of Christians are potentially more intense about Jesus than are the remainder of Christians. Maybe so, maybe not, but that is still not what bugs me.
What bugs me is this: if I drive down my street or you drive down yours, forty percent of the homes will not have a manger scene in the front yard. It is not Walmart’s or Home Depot’s responsibility to advertise Jesus Christ, but it is our responsibility – we, the Christians. The reason that major retailers are not selling Christian Christmas scenes is because the Christians do not buy them. If the goal is to maximize profits, then selling to forty to eighty-five percent of the nation’s adult population is a good idea. Not that many retailers are so ideologically opposed to Jesus Christ that they will forego the potential profit. To the contrary, profit-driven retailers virtually always stock what people want to buy. Apparently, Christians prefer the snowman theme to the Jesus theme in the front yard.
I love Christmas lights and candy canes. I love Santa Clauses and Christmas trees. All of these things will be in my home. But they are ancillary to the central fact of Christmas: the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. If we the Christians are not advertising Jesus Christ to the world, why on earth would we complain that retailers are not? Churches utilize every imaginable venue for proclaiming the message of Jesus’ birth, but most people drive by churches to look at Christmas decorations. If half the houses on every block had crèches or mangers, people would be a little more curious about the Baby Whose birth caused all this celebration.
I do not want to be John the Baptist, weird by any standard and warning people to flee from the wrath to come. Just like everybody else, I want to be a normal person fitting into the world in which we live, or at least giving the illusion thereof. Nor am I suggesting that somebody else become John the Baptist. I just assume God chooses the odd people He wants to do peculiar things, and unless He has mentioned it to you, I think we are safe in blending in. But I do not think we are safe to complain about retailers when we do not prepare the way of the Lord in our own front yard.
Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight paths for Him. We are not called to change hearts or minds or anything else. That is the work of the Spirit. We are called to make a straight path through which the Spirit of Christ can be revealed. We can begin by making an effort to announce in our front yards for all the world to see that Christmas is about the birth of God’s Son.
What at your home announces the birth of Christ? In what way are you conveying to those around you that Jesus’ birth matters to you? We do not have to get rid of everything Christmas that is not specifically Christian, but a great many of us might need to add some visible sign of Christ if we want to prepare the way for Him. That is what we are asked to do.
In Christ –
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