That’s what 30% of children surveyed in Great Britain think. According to a poll of 1,000 school children between five and seven years of age, 36% have no idea whose birthday we will celebrate Sunday. It gets worse: nearly 25% believe the answer is Simon Cowell. Some 25% believe that Jesus was born at Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street; only 28% know he was born in Bethlehem.
Could such biblical ignorance happen in America? As a child growing up in Houston, Texas, I didn’t know who was born on Christmas day. When I eventually learned that Christmas observes the birth of Jesus, I remember being confused: what does he have to do with Santa Claus? And why do we celebrate his birth, anyway?
It turns out I wasn’t that unusual. Surveys indicate that 80% of America’s non-Christians celebrate Christmas, though they obviously attach no Christian significance to the day. Only 51% of those who will observe the holiday describe it as “strongly religious” for them. While church attendance will spike at tomorrow’s Christmas Eve services, crowds will soon return to normal.
My point is not that the secular trappings of Christmas are a bad thing. I look forward every year to the decorating, family gatherings, and gift-giving of this season. (Actually, not so much the decorating, but that’s another subject.) My point is that the true “reason for the season” must be our intentional focus every year, or our Christmas season will go the way of Great Britain.
How much time will you and your family spend in spiritual activities this weekend? Will you read the Nativity story from Scripture? Will you pray together? Will you make sure your children understand what happened on the first Christmas and why it matters so much? Will you take time for personal reflection and worship?
The gift Jesus wants most for his birthday is your heart. Consider this reading from Frederick Buechner: “Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of [us]. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in the least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there, too. And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully.”
The Baby of Bethlehem now wants to make his manger in us. This weekend, let’s be sure there’s room in our inn for him. From all of us at the Denison Forum, a blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours.