In the quest for political correctness over the last two decades one of the primary battlegrounds has been centered around Christmas. The phrase “Merry Christmas” and all the public displays associated with it have been considered offensive for a variety of reasons. Pluralists object because it is exclusivistic, those who hold to other faiths feel slighted or left out, and many atheists simply object to all public religious displays. For these people Christmas is so offensive it needs to be cleansed from our vocabulary so that the “Christmas Spirit” (whatever that is) can be ascribed to just about anything that can qualify for the phrase “Happy Holidays.” At best, the sacred is replaced by the sentimental.
Christians, on the other hand, often find it hard to understand what could possibly be offensive about celebrating the birth Jesus, the Prince of Peace. After all, he is the incarnation of a loving God who came into the world as a savior. What’s so offensive about that? The answer is: EVERYTHING!
The incarnation of the second member of the Trinity is an event so glorious, so mysterious and so wonderful we should celebrate it everyday. It should radically transform our lives and affect everything we do. But in addition to being glorious, mysterious, and wonderful, the incarnation is a powerful indictment of every person who has ever lived. Jesus’ birth is a judgment that says we are all guilty before a holy, righteous, and just God, and that we can do nothing to save ourselves from his wrath. Without Jesus we are lost, utterly without hope, condemned. We are in desperate need of a savior. And the idea of a defenseless infant being our savior sprinkles our indictment with a bit of humiliation.
Quite frankly, that is pretty offensive. Being told your are wrong, lost, helpless, hopeless, and condemned doesn’t exactly make you want to celebrate by running out to buy presents for your friends and family and trimming up the tree. At a time when Christianity in America has been so focused on seeker-sensitive services and has gone to great lengths not to offend anyone, Christians have forgotten a very important truth: the Gospel is offensive.
In fact, if the offensiveness of the Gospel is removed then there is no Gospel left. Without an understanding of what we need to be saved from we would never recognize or even look for a savior. For Jesus to come into the world as a savior without offending anyone makes no sense. Jesus didn’t come into the world as a good example, he came to do what we could not do for ourselves. A drowning man must understand his circumstance accurately to recognize the hand that will pull him to safety and give him a reason to grab it. The offensiveness of the Gospel is what makes it Good News since it reveals what we are saved from and why we need a savior, as well as who that savior is.
This is what makes Christmas merry – it is the arrival of the way that God has provided for his righteous judgment to be satisfied. Everything that makes us lost, wrong, hopeless, helpless, and condemned is what Jesus came to take from us – our sin. The coming of the savior in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago is only worth celebrating if we understand what he came to save us from. And that is the offense of Christmas.
Doug Powell holds a Masters in Apologetics from Biola University. He is the author of the Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics, a contributor to The Apologetics Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, and Modern Reformation magazine. In addition to writing, Doug is a recording artist with nine records to his credit, a speaker on apologetics topics, author of the iPad appResurrection iWitness, and is the Art Director for Apologia. He has appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, CNN, NPR, World Cafe, Prime Time America, The White Horse Inn, and Sound Rezn. His new book, Resurrection iWitness, will be published in March by B&H.