Ephesians 4:17-18 seems like a strange passage for a Christmas message, but that was what I had chosen for a final chapel message before the Christmas break. The combined chapel was especially challenging since it included students from Kindergarten through the twelfth grades. To make matters worse, the chapel precedes the class Christmas parties. How does one get and keep the attention of a broad spectrum of students who are ready for a party and two week Christmas break. My only hope was a question that might actually get their attention.
Ephesians 4:17-18 says, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened …” My first question to the chapel attendees was, “how does this passage apply to Christmas?
Paul consistently teaches doctrine in the first part of his writings, and then proceeds to application in the second half. This book is no exception. Ephesians 4:1 starts the application section – “I … beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called.” When he gets to v. 17 he exhorts the believers to resist the godless habits of people void of biblical light.
The application at Christmas should be obvious. A secular world celebrates Santa and his trappings, parties, giving, family, and other objects and ideas. These things are fine in their proper place, but Paul exhorted believers to distinguish themselves from the “other Gentiles.” That observation led me to the second question. “What is the visible difference in the celebration of a Christian and non-Christian? Believers must celebrate in a distinctive fashion – deliberately choosing to exalt the real purpose of Christmas. What does this mean in real, “rubber meets the road” terms?
The answers of the students indicated this was something they had never really contemplated. It was, however, a good question for me. Can my friends and neighbors tell that my celebration is distinctively a celebration of the incarnation? I ended up asking myself the question, “how would Paul have celebrated Christmas?” Thinking of Paul while he contemplated Athens in Acts 17, I can’t imagine he would have rejected the opportunities of the Christmas season. Nearly everyone is celebrating something during these “holidays.” Perhaps, they just need us to help them figure out what they are celebrating. Make your celebration intentionally distinctive. You may be the one God will use to help them understand who the baby in the manger really is.
Doug Wright is pastor of Keystone Baptist Church, Berryville, VA.