An atheist's approach to Christmas - Denison Forum

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An atheist’s approach to Christmas

December 17, 2015 - Dr. Ryan Denison

A woman with stripped socks sitting in a chair by the fireplace and her lit and decorated Christmas tree (Credit: Konstiantyn via Fotolia)

In a recent article for CNN, Todd Leopold asks the question “How do atheists celebrate Christmas?” Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that he found that most atheists have a very similar Christmas to everyone else. The only real difference in most cases is that they don’t go to church on Christmas Eve. Beyond that, the trees, traditions, and most everything else so commonly associated with the holiday are pretty much par for the course.

Hemant Mehta, a blogger for The Friendly Atheist, sums up this reality well when he says “Christians don’t own December. Even if Christmas as a Christian holiday didn’t exist right now, I think there would be plenty of reason that it makes sense to take a couple weeks off at the end of the year…This is a nice way to just relax and spend time with your family. If it coincides with the majority’s religious holiday, great.”

Really, in many ways Mehta is right. We Christians don’t own December and, in many ways, we don’t own Christmas anymore either. What may have started as a religious holiday has become, for a good chunk of the country, primarily secular. As Boston University’s Stephen Prothero described, “There have always been people in America who want to make [Christmas] more religious—more Christian. But the reason they’re doing that is that Christians have largely lost control of the holiday.” He would go on to say that Christmas “isn’t just a Christian holiday anymore. It’s a lot of other things.”

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing though. Now, would it be better if everyone took this time of year as a chance to worship the God of the universe who became one of us so that he might make a way for all people to be saved? Of course it would, and that day will come (Philippians 2:10-11). But until then, instead of feeling like a victim of the “war on Christmas” when people say “Happy Holidays” or lamenting the fact that most non-Christians (and quite a few Christians as well) have lost sight of the true reason for Christmas, what if we took advantage of the common ground this holiday provides in order to share God’s message of love and mercy with those who so desperately need to hear it?

Christmas offers us a chance to share the gospel in ways unique to this time of year. Whether through songs playing in every store that preach the good news of Jesus’ birth, or the emphasis on giving in celebration of the gift God has given to us, people are encountering the gospel without even knowing it. From there, it is a small step to gently shift the conversation to the truth of Christmas.

So let’s be intentional about using these last few days before the holiday arrives to give God the gift of our obedience by sharing the gospel with those we encounter. That non-Christians celebrate Christmas is good news. Let’s act like it.

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