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Anyone who can guess the author of the following article will receive a copy of On Being Reformed:

Putting the X Back in Xmas

How to make “Jesus the Reason for the Season” – that is the dilemma facing evangelical Protestants. Some, the socially militant ones, insist that Christmas is a holiday by divine right and fight for the public nativity scene in town square, hoping to hide its otherwise nakedness. The evangelistic evangelicals (perhaps a redundancy) hope to use the holiday to reach the lost, taking advantage of banners, plays, or even worship to proclaim the gospel to those nominal Christians who go to church during the holy month of December. But rarely have evangelicals owned up to the commercial nature of modern Christmas celebrations and their part in its commodification. In his recent book, Selling God, R. Laurence Moore shows how the evangelical Presbyterian, John Wanamaker, transformed his downtown Philadelphia department store into a church during Christmas, complete with the largest pipe organ in the world (!!), programs of Christmas carols, and other Christian symbols. According to Leigh Eric Schmidt, whose Consumer Rites parallels Moore’s book on religious consumerism, the nativity scene in Wanamaker’s Grand Court “remained the center-piece” of the store’s Christmas Cathedral, “often spotlighted with a beam of light that looked as if it had come shining down from the heavens.” According to Schmidt, the interplay between the divine gift of God’s only begotten son and the gifts exchanged at Christmas energized Wanamaker’s displays. “Christmas gifts provided a tangible vehicle for connecting with the sacred drama.”

THE PROBLEM WITH ALL evangelical approaches to Christmas, from the crassly commercial to the devoutly evangelistic, is that of begging the question. Is Christ’s birth really about “Christmas cheer,” whether the secular variety of spiked eggnog, jingle bells, and jolly Saint Nick, or the seemingly more dignified joy that comes from gratitude to God for sending his Son to redeem the lost? In other words, should the incarnation make us glad or humble? Any answer to this question should, of course, keep in mind the less sentimental aspects of Christ’s birth, the manger in the stable and Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.

A better reason for Christmas gloom comes from the Bible’s teaching about the humiliation of the second person of the Trinity in the incarnation. Children reared on the Westminster Shorter Catechism are taught to conceive of Christ’s earthly ministry under the rubric of his humiliation, as distinct from his exaltation. Question 27 reads, “Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?” Answer: “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.” What is important to notice is that the birth and death of Christ, and everything in between, compose a single act of God in which he humbled himself by being subject to his own creation in the most humiliating fashion. So what is said about the incarnation applies similarly to the crucifixion, the former being initial, and the latter the culmination of Christ’s suffering.

SINCE BIRTH AND BURIAL ARE part of Christ’s humiliation, they should nurture a similar response from us as Paul says in Phillipians 2. Unfortunately the piety of Christmas is insensitive to this teaching as revealed by the spirit and traditions of the holiday. So instead of celebrating the birth of Christ at Christmas, the church should look to a more appropriate form of celebration – the regular receiving of the Lord’s Supper, It is the proper alternative to Christmas cheer, consumerism and yuletide indulgence.

INSTEAD OF LINKING THE incarnation to fictional tales about Santa and his elves, the Lord’s Supper unites Christ to real events in the history of Israel, filled with redemptive significance, like the Passover. And rather than forcing new and irrelevant significance on to the narrative to achieve a new market-centered gospel of trade and consumption, the Lord’s Supper explains the true significance of Christ’s coming, namely, to be the sacrifice for the propitiation of God’s wrath. Moreover, the Lord’s Supper produces a reverence and solemnity appropriate for something as awful as the incarnation. Instead of this being a time of gorging and giggling, the Supper’s small portions nurture self-examination, repentance, and faith. One last thing – an important one for Presbyterians and Reformed – the Lord’s Supper is biblically prescribed whereas Christmas is not. As J. Gresham Machen wrote,

the Bible makes no definite provision for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, but provides the most definite and solemn way for the commemoration of his death. . . . Indeed that commemoration of the death of Christ was definitely provided for by Jesus himself. “This cup is the New Testament in my blood,” said Jesus: “this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” In those words of institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus carefully provided that His church should commemorate His death.

Evangelicals used to cry, “Back to Jesus.” Maybe its time they did by taking up the cross and giving up the manger.

22 thoughts on “Win a Free Book

  1. My first guess would be you. My second guess would be you. If you had quoted Mencken in addition to Machen, your authorship would be beyond doubt.


  2. Daryl G. Hart.
    Here’s why: DGH is one of the few people around who know who Leigh Schmidt (of “Holy Fairs” fame) is. Also, the references to Machen and the Westminster Confession of Faith!


  3. Dr. Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Chair of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California. Horton’s m.o. is to immerse the reader into the enjoyment of the event only to create a rain event that rivals Hurricane Florence.


  4. D G Hart

    DGH often gives us simple false alternatives—-either x-mass or the Sacrament as Something God does through the Ordained Ministry of the true Mother Church.

    But instead of a regulative principle which replaces some of the children of Abraham with their own children (and then refuses them the table of remembering), perhaps a better alternative would be a rejection of those who teach that the incarnation means that Christ died for the sins of all humanity. Instead of Crawford asking to share the Reformed label with the brethren and the baptists, perhaps this would be the time to warn against those who have brought the errors of Andrew Fuller into the camp of the Reformed.

    Mason–”If God did not in some sense love mankind, thereby allowing universal scope to “whoever,” then we really ought not OFFER the Gospel to anyone; how could we know it was truly for them? If God’s love (in the sense of the passage) is to some only, and therefore His Son is for some only, and the “whoever” is restricted in scope, all should have grounds do doubt their inclusion in the offer.–We are fully warranted to conclude that God gave His only begotten Son to all mankind, for Christ the Lord has borne (and continues to bear) the self-same and complete human nature of all mankind. When God sent His Son, He sent Him as the Seed of Eve, the Mother of all the Living. …As we contemplate the meaning of this Advent Season and the coming Christmas day celebration, I pray that we all may be sure of two things: The Gospel of the Incarnate God is for you.
    The Gospel of the Incarnate God is for all mankind.”


  5. JH Yoder

    “The infancy narratives in the gospels are not only about the baby Jesus but also about men and women awaiting the triumphant Messiah, who were promised suffering instead. Rejection at the inn is followed by Simeon’s bitter prophecy, “This child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also).” Herod’s menace fulfills for Matthew Jeremiah’s word about Rachel weeping for her children. The peasants for whom, legend says, St. Francis invented the manger scene knew full well that for a child to be born in a barn means for the mother — poverty, stench, and rejection by men, not sweet-smelling hay and cute woolly lambs at play. “Little baby Jesus,” clean, chubby, innocent — and in our art usually blond, Aryan — has nothing to do with the gospel. …If in the effort to save Christmas , we fall into the docetic heresy, affirming the full divine presence apart from the story of the man. For the sake of the meaning of incarnation, we must, like the gospels, see the cross behind the cradle. It is because that can no longer be done with American Christmas that the time may well have come for surgery.”

    — John Howard Yoder, “On the Meaning of Christmas,” pages 47, in Spiritual Writings: John Howard Yoder, edited by Howell and Martens

    Matthew 16: 13 Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” 17 And Jesus responded, “Simon, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven.. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”
    20 And Jesus gave the disciples orders to tell no one that He was the Christ.
    21 From then on Jesus began to point out to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You!” 23 But Jesus turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me


  6. D.G. Hart say “In other words, should the incarnation make us glad or humble? ”



    -Hebrews 2:14a , since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same,

    -1 John 3: 8 b The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

    -Hebrews 12:2…Jesus..who for the joy set before Him…

    Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
    let earth receive her King!
    Let every heart prepare him room
    and heaven and nature sing.

    Joy to the earth! the Saviour reigns:
    let men their songs employ
    while fields and floods rocks hills and plains
    repeat the sounding joy.

    No more let sins and sorrows grow
    nor thorns infest the ground:
    he comes to make his blessings flow
    far as the curse is found.


  7. I’m going to say that it would by Darryl G. Hart. The critique of evangelical approaches along with the Machen quote give it away (not that I’m against such critiques and quotes, mind you).


  8. Judging from the sources quoted it was probably written in the late nineties. I do not think Brent Ferry was writing anything significant at that time and although OPC, I am not sure how well D.G. knows Brent. Most of Horton’s culture books (Beyond Culture Wars, Made in America, Where in the World is the Church) were written early nineties, his books seem a little too popular for D.G.’s usual taste and Horton like Clark are some kind of Presbyterians but not the kind that use the Westminster Confession so probably not them. My guess is the man himself D.G. Hart!

    Just e-mail me D.G. for my address to send the Book and thanks in advance!!


  9. A declension narrative or “the myth of influence”?

    Does the sectarian opc have more influence than the pca?

    “In 1549, Knox was released and made his way to England. He pastored a congregation at Berwick, but soon he moved to Newcastle. He then became a royal chaplain during the days of the young King Edward VI. Moving farther south, his influence grew, not least in his insistence on what came to be known as the “Puritan” principle for regulating public worship: only what is commanded in Scripture is mandated in the life of the church.

    In earlier days, his radical vision had provided an opportunity for the nobility to lead Scotland into the future, but many were to prove too little concerned for the radical transformation of the spiritual life of the church and nation….This change in Knox’s influence was illustrated at the coronation of the young James VI, where Knox preached the sermon but the ex-Roman Catholic bishop of Orkney performed the anointing of the king in accordance with the ancient rites. The return of bishops to the Kirk already had appeared over the horizon.”


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