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WORLDVIEW: The world still wants to hear ‘Merry Christmas’

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Another Christmas, another controversy. The annual battle over whether Christmas is a sacred season of worship and celebration or a license to shop and party has resumed. This time it rages around phrases such as “happy holidays” replacing “Merry Christmas.” Wishing your neighbor a “Merry Christmas” apparently has become as dangerous to public tranquility as putting up a manger scene on the courthouse steps.

Many major retailers have dropped all references to Christmas and are using watered-down “holiday” phrases, reports the conservative American Family Association. Public school systems, of course, went that route long ago. Even President and Mrs. Bush are taking the generic approach with their “holiday” cards.

“Happy holidays” sounds harmless and inclusive, say merchants, school principals and others anxious not to offend. But that’s precisely the problem, respond some Christian groups. They contend that Christmas not only has been hijacked by commerce, but also drained of meaning and shoved into the closet by the Grinch-like forces of political correctness.

Will Christmas ever recover its true meaning and power in modern America? Your guess is as good as mine.

If you’re discouraged by the culture war over Christmas, however, take heart. God still reigns. And He still reveals Himself around the world during this holy season through His Son, Jesus Christ -– even in the most unlikely places.

Consider the isolated kingdom of Bhutan, wedged between Tibet, China and India in the Himalayas. Most public Christian worship is banned there, but believers gather in undisclosed locations. They also celebrate Christmas –- quietly.

“Believers will display whatever decorations they can get inside their homes,” writes a Christian worker asking for prayer. “It may be a string or two of colored lights, or some colored foil tinsel, maybe even a picture of the Nativity. The young people are the boldest –- and they take some risks. They will get together and practice singing Christmas carols. Then the week before Christmas, with a beat-up guitar or two, they’ll go around and visit church members. Pray for their protection this year as Bhutanese believers celebrate Christmas in whatever way they can.”

In Pakistan, Christmas is a natural time for believers to tell others about Jesus. Santa Claus is gaining a foothold in the bigger cities, but most people in the overwhelmingly Muslim country haven’t been bombarded by the seasonal traditions that distract us in America and Europe. Curiosity about Christmas among Pakistanis also gives Christians extra freedom to discuss Jesus during December. Pray that Pakistani believers will use every opportunity they have during the Christmas season to share the Good News of Jesus.

All over China, meanwhile, Christmas brings countless opportunities to announce the birth of the Savior in a culture starved for truth.

“The Christmas season is upon us, a time where we have the opportunity to see a lot of exciting things,” writes a Christian believer in a major Chinese city. “During this season, we are able to share the truth more openly than at other times of the year. We can host events with our friends, speak in classrooms and communicate the Gospel to many who have never heard before.”

In another Chinese city, local believers took on the challenge of sharing the meaning of the season with 70,000 households through special Christmas parties, dinners and other gatherings in early December.

“Pray that these gatherings for the purpose of sharing the Gospel will also serve as the beginning of ongoing gatherings,” a believer pleads. “Pray that God will be glorified as at least 100 new multiplying churches are started this Christmas season.”

Christmas Eve might just be the best single day of the year for evangelism in China. Churches will be packed with the faithful –- as well as the curious. Pray that the risen Christ will be proclaimed boldly in every Christmas gathering.

Last year, as students prepared for a dramatic presentation of the Christmas story on a Chinese university campus, the young woman playing the role of Jesus’ mother sought out the director. She had been so moved by the story of Jesus’ birth that she wanted to know more. The director, a Christian, shared the rest of the Gospel story with her. When the drama was enacted the next night, the young woman who played the part of Mary carrying Jesus in her womb truly did carry Him in her heart.

A student volunteer team visited a remote town in western China last year at Christmastime. Through English classes, music and drama, they told more than 200 students about the true meaning of Christmas. A Chinese student who accepted Christ as Savior has since led several of her classmates to the Lord.

“I had searched for this since I was 7 years old,” she said. “No one could tell me, but I knew there was something that I was missing. Not until those students came at Christmas and told me who Jesus was did I find what I was looking for.”

The hunger of the human heart for the Messiah transcends secularism, atheism, commercialism, communism multiculturalism -– and every other “ism.” Every soul yearns to hear: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. … Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:11, 14, KJV).

No amount of obfuscation, rationalization -– even persecution –- can prevent that wonderful news from reaching to the ends of the earth.
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges