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Good news in strange Christmas stories

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Penguins clad in Christmas-themed outfits walk next to staff dressed as Santa Claus at Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in Yokohama, south of Tokyo November 27, 2012 (Credit: Reuters/Yuriko Nakao)

Penguins at an aquarium in Japan have been taught to switch on the Christmas lights at their habitat every evening.  My wife wishes I were as well trained at our house.

A three-ton Christmas cake was paraded through the German city of Dresden on the back of a horse-drawn carriage.  There was no word on its cost.  However, the menu for the world’s most expensive Christmas dinner was revealed over the weekend.  Diners will spend $8,000 on pistachios, $4,167 on watermelons, and a total of $200,375 on the dinner for four.

A television reporter asked people on the streets of New York City basic questions about Christmas.  Here are some “facts” he heard: Jesus was born in Jerusalem, his profession was “all-around nice guy,” and the Wise Men brought him “frankincense, myrrh, and baby diapers.”

And in Pennsylvania, the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue Ellwood City if officials did not remove their Nativity scene from the city hall lawn.  So some concerned citizens created a Nativity scene on the back of a trailer, which they park in front of city hall each evening.

As antagonism to Christianity continues to grow in our country, what does it say about our culture that Christmas is more popular than ever?  While skeptics will blame marketing and consumerism, does our love for this holiday indicate something more significant about us?

Peter Berger, a well-known sociologist,  identifies five facts about human behavior which, in his view, indicate the existence of God.  His “signals of transcendence”: humanity’s passion for order (pointing to a Designer); our desire for play (mirroring our longing for eternal joy); our innate commitment to hope (refusing to believe that death has the final word); our belief in the necessity of damnation for true evil; and our propensity for laughing at our limitations (indicating that we believe they will be overcome).

Is the abiding popularity of Christmas another “signal”?  Theologian J. B. Phillips called Earth “the visited planet.” Just as our space vehicles have left tracks on the Moon and Mars, if the Son of God walked on our planet wouldn’t you expect evidence of his visit?  Rather than complain about the secularization of the holidays, perhaps we should view the festivities of the season as attempts to fill the “God-shaped emptiness” in each of us.

The Light of Christmas “shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  So be encouraged—the Spirit of God is using the holidays to honor the Son of God.  How will you cooperate with him today?