Every year I love and dread the Christmas season. I love it because is represents the coming of Christ to earth for my salvation. I dread it because some (usually) well-meaning group calls for the boycott of some (usually) well-meaning store or chain of stores because of a policy that forbids the use of "Merry Christmas" in greetings, opting instead for "Happy Holidays." I am always puzzled why the church does this to herself.
I think if we would be honest with ourselves, we inadvertently do the same thing when we overlook the great opportunities to share Christ during the days and weeks leading up to Christmas. More than the mere insistence of saying "Merry Christmas," this season, like few other times of year, provides us with a scenario where our entire culture is at least cognizant of Jesus.
Research has borne out the fact that Christmas is a great time to share Christ. In 2008 LifeWay Research did a study for the North American Mission Board. The results showed that among the top five times of life when American adults are open for considering matters of faith, Christmas tops the list. In fact, 47 percent of respondents indicated openness during the time of yuletide cheer.
Additionally, those in this same demographic indicated they were somewhat or very willing to receive information about a local church from a family member (63 percent) or a friend or neighbor from the church (56 percent). When we combine these ideas, it becomes clear that people are very open to hearing about Christ at Christmas, especially from people they know.
Christmas marketing campaigns and advertising are good support, but the most effective approach remains the personal relationship. Let's not miss it by being distracted by Christmas trappings ourselves.
In 2006, the team I led at the Center for Missional Research (my old job) sponsored a poll and found that 41 percent of Americans indicated they are likely to be open to an invitation during the Christmas season.
And it is not simply detached believers who are open. Our study found:
• Nearly 34 percent of respondents who registered "Other/None" for their religion indicated that they'd attend when invited to a Christian worship service during the Christmas season.
• Of the respondents who were not churchgoers, 12 percent of those who never go to church and 34 percent of those who rarely attend indicated they were more likely to attend a Christmas service if invited.
• And an astounding 42 percent of those who said they were not born again would come to a Christian worship service during the Christmas season if asked.
Annually between the fourth Thursday in November and December 25, our culture is inundated with the themes of Christmas: generosity, sacrifice, and gratitude. Whether it is TV shows, movies, sale advertisements, Christmas carols during the halftime of bowl games or decorated houses, it is difficult to be alive and not know about Christmas. It's almost like free advertising to help people think about important things.
Some believers still consider Santa Claus as the arch-rival to Jesus at Christmas time. But the very basis of the figure (from the Dutch "Sinterklaas") is the Christian bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra, whose generosity touched many of the poor in 4th century Turkey. He was a man who, under only a spiritual compulsion, willingly gave to those who had nothing. In the giving of Christmas gifts, there is a great example of our heavenly Father who "gave His One and Only Son" for the salvation of those who will believe. It is a gift the Apostle Paul called "indescribable."
Although many of the items surrounding Christmas are not explicitly Christian most represent an open door through which the wise gospel messenger can walk. Opportunity is knocking … loudly. Seize the opportunity while people are receptive and while attention is on the birth of Christ. No matter where you serve, what the age group is around you, or whether people consider themselves to be religious or not, there are some – quite a few, really – who are ready at this time of year to hear about the Christ we celebrate.