I have 3 tips to share with you but they may not be the ones you're expecting. Often times when we talk about getting together with family or at a more formal dinner setting, there are some tips and things that you shouldn't talk about. For instance, don't talk about religion. Don't talk about money. Don't talk about politics.
However, those are the 3 things I actually like talking about more than anything else so those tips have never really resonated well with me, though there is some wisdom there.
However, I want to give you 3 different types of tips for your conversations this Christmas season.
Take Advantage of This Time of Year
We have a unique opportunity this time of year as Christians. This is the one time of year where people are comfortable listening to songs that are overtly religious. Songs about a savior come to a manger and born to save mankind.
That's not to say that everyone is fine listening to those songs. Some people still get peeved by them but nonetheless, on the whole our secular culture is much more comfortable listening to these songs at this time of year than at any other time. We can take advantage of that. If someone's listening to a song you could say, "What do you think about that baby that was born in a manger 2000 years ago?" “We like the song. It's warm, it's festive, but what do you think about what it's actually talking about?”
These songs that play in the mall, in Starbucks, in our homes, they can be a great conversation starter. In fact, I personally plan on taking advantage of this season and the attitudes that come along with it. One of the classes I'll have for seminary this winter is personal evangelism. A large part of that class, as you might expect, is actually doing evangelism.
I placed that class in the winter for the 2 weeks before Christmas because it will be easier to start conversations with people. I'm just going to go up to them and try and talk about Jesus and doing that at this time of year is going to be much easier and probably more effective than at any other time of year.
For instance, a question such as, "Do you celebrate Christmas" will probably get people to say yes. "What's your favorite holiday tradition?" Most likely, they’ll tell you. You could ask, "What do you think about the fact that Christmas got started as a celebration of the birth of Jesus?" See what they have to say. You could follow that with, "Do you believe in God?"
We've used 3 or 4 questions now to ease into this conversation and it's the time of year where people like talking about their traditions, where people are comfortable talking about celebrating Christmas, even if we mean different things by that. I would encourage you to take advantage of this season. That's the first step. Take advantage of the season and the relaxed guard people have to religious topics at this time of year.
Watch Your Terminology
The second tip I have is to watch your terminology. Slightly different than the first. I think there are some ways that Christians talk about their faith that actually undermine it when they don't intend to. I have 3 examples. The first would be to say that Christmas is about Jesus being born in a manger. Okay, that's true, but what if we were to say, "Jesus of Nazareth" being born in Bethlehem?
One is not more true than the other but one sounds different to the ear. Jesus was born in a manger. That sounds like something that people have heard their whole lives that, maybe for them, gets put in the realm of religious fairy tale. Whereas Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem in Judea sounds like a statement of fact from history. One is not more true than the other but one sounds a little more fresh.
I'd encourage you to be as specific in your terminology as you can. Try and present things in a new way to people so that they might listen in a new way. It might just catch their ear in a way that it hadn't before. I've seen this work quite effectively.
When people ask, "Why are you a Christian?", they're expecting me to say something about my internal subjective experience and often I will say, "Because I think Christianity is the best explanation for the way the world really is. I actually believe the evidence is on the side of the Christian when it comes to the claim that Jesus of Nazareth really lived a sinless life, died on a Roman cross, was buried and literally rose from the dead 3 days later. I think the evidence is on the side of that claim and that is why I'm a Christian."
That catches people's ear in a different way than how we often talk about the reason we're a Christian. That doesn't mean that one is somehow false and the other is true but what I'm saying is we have to take the opportunities that we have to present the unchanging truths of Christianity in a relevant and new and fresh sounding way without compromising the truths they represent.
Using Jesus is not a bad idea but saying Jesus of Nazareth, that paints Jesus more as a historical figure. I would encourage that. He was born in a manger but he was also born in Bethlehem in Judea at the time of Herod. Luke gives us a lot of detail there. He gives that because he's writing so that Theophilus, the person he's writing to, will know these things. He wants to give a very orderly account.
Let's take a cue from that and also give an orderly account when we talk about our celebration of Christmas this year. That's the first terminology tip. Be specific in how you talk about Jesus or other figures in these historical accounts.
I've heard people say something like, "There's this thing in the Bible that says" and maybe they fill it in with "There's this thing in the Bible that says Jesus was born of a virgin." That person could have great confidence in the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin but you might not know it by the way they said that.
“There's this thing in the Bible that says.” That sounds very removed from the person, very external, so I would encourage you to say something like, "In Matthew's gospel, he actually says that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin Mary in the town of Bethlehem." Let's include as much detail as we can to convey the fact that we think this is actually an event that happened in history. It is a historical type of event.
The third thing I want to point out to you in terms of terminology and how we talk about things would be the phrase, "The Christmas Story." That phrase is used universally by Christians and non-Christians alike. I'm not a big fan of it. Here's the reason: A lot of times, with our children, we read them stories. Most of the time these stories are fictions. They are made up. Why would we talk about the most important account that ever happened like it's some other children's story?
I don't think we should. This problem isn't just for children. I think children could potentially get the wrong idea here. I think culture at large, once again, is listening to how we talk. A lot of them think the Christmas Story is indeed a fable. Someone being born of a virgin? That's nuts. That's what they think.
When we talk about it like it's a story, when we say things like, "There's this thing in the Bible", when we're not intentional in speaking about these things with specificity and conviction, I think sometimes culture gets the wrong idea. They think, "Well, you know, maybe we were right in thinking that they don't have a lot of confidence in this. It's something they do take on blind faith. It is some type of religious fiction or fairy tale.”
What if we talked about Jesus' birth in terms of an “account?” Today we're going to read the account of Jesus' birth. Accounts are types of things that happened. When you go before a court you might give an account of where you were one night as part of your alibi. This simple change in wording from story to account can help convey the confidence we have in the fact that these events actually happened. We believe they actually happened.
We've talked about taking advantage of the season. We've talked about watching your terminology, Jesus versus Jesus of Nazareth, there's this thing in the Bible and the Christmas story.
The last thing I want to point out is that we should be intentional. In 2 or 3 ways. The first would be in how we act. Often times at Christmas, you're going to be with your extended family. Sometimes, for many of you, this might be with people who aren't Christians. I think it's very easy for us Christians to get caught up in the fact that there are presents and gifts and details and maybe we act just like everyone else.
We're less intentional about being giving and being loving and just spending time with our relatives. We don't do that that often. We see them a few times a year often times. Be intentional in showing the love of Christ to your relatives, to whoever you're with through how you act. This will buy you some currency for when you go to speak about things. That's the first thing. Be intentional in how you act but also be intentional in your conversation.
Look for ways to bring up the true reason that we celebrate Christmas. We talked about this in terms of the first point, taking advantage of the season. There might be a Christmas song playing. “What do you think about the claim that that song makes? That Jesus was born to die to take away the sins of the world?” “What do you think about the fact that we're celebrating this very religious holiday? Do you think there's a good reason for it? Is it just some type of cultural convention?” Start a conversation but be intentional.
Look for the things people say so that you can hopefully capitalize on them. There is a proper way to do this and a not proper way to do this. If this feels forced, the day you're celebrating Christmas and all the family's together, that's probably not also the time to do that. Use your judgement and discernment here. Just because you can make a bridge from something that happened or was said to a spiritual conversation, doesn't mean you should.
There's a wisdom component to that. We should be intentional in how we act and in how we speak with other people. The last thing I want to point out is that we shouldn't be bashful about the reason that we personally are celebrating Christmas. In order to understand the reason we celebrate Christmas, we must understand Easter. We must understand the cross. This has been pointed out many times but it bears remembering that we're not celebrating the birth of just any child.
We're celebrating the birth of God Incarnate who came to earth to ultimately die. It's that “ultimately die and rise from the dead part” that is the major reason for the celebration. Now, God condescending and taking on flesh for our sake, that is something to be celebrated too but ultimately the power of Christmas is because it starts what gets finished and ultimately culminates in Easter.
Don't be bashful about the reason you're celebrating. I think sometimes there's this tendency for some people in family gatherings and things like that to down play the religious nature of the holiday. Like I said, let's take advantage of the season. Let's be intentional and point out the fact that we're celebrating because Christ came at this time of year (at least that's when we celebrate it) to live and ultimately to die to take away sin. To cancel out the effects of sin, that we committed. That I committed. For that I am eternally grateful and that is why I celebrate Christmas.
It's ultimately rooted in an appreciation for salvation. Not gifts. Though gifts are nice, but let's be very clear and not be bashful about the reason we celebrate this splendid holiday. Those are our 3 tips. Take advantage of the season, watch your terminology, and be intentional. I hope these have been helpful. I hope you have a great time with family and friends this year and I hope that you're a little more equipped to be more effective for Christ in those conversations that hopefully will come up with those people that you love.
I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.