The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

While we were looking for “God” in the glorious splendor of our inner lights and universal morality, the Son became the most scandalously particular yet historically accessible revelation of God. It is not private therapy or rational argument, but a public announcement. Michael Horton

The Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin, recently asked that Hendersen County of east Texas to remove their nativity display from the square located in the city of Athens. If their demand is not granted, FRFM reportedly has plans to display a banner next to the nativity scene that states, “At this Season of the Winter Solstice, LET REASON PREVAIL.” The banner will describe religion as a “myth and superstition.”

So, the attack on Christmas intensifies. It is not a new fight but it is more combative, pervasive and effective. Walk through the mall and you will not hear religious songs that have been a part of Christmas tradition for hundreds of years. This is not a coincidence. It is a deliberate decision. “Happy Holidays” has replaced “Merry Christmas” as the approved greeting for this season. A state in the Northeast has even deemed it necessary to officially rename the tree that sits on state grounds as a “Holiday Tree” rather than a Christmas tree.

Some of the secular Grinch’s biggest guns have focused upon nativity scenes. On the surface it seems so silly. What could be offensive about a traditional display of a father and mother and some shepherds and kings gathered around a little newborn resting in a bed of hay? Why the heated controversy? What could cause judges to issue injunctions designed to prevent nativity scenes from being displayed on public lands?

The opponents argue that it is in fact an unconstitutional act by the government to establish one particular religion. It no longer makes any difference that nativity scenes have been a cherished part of our Christmas celebrations for decades. These groups claim that the nativity scenes are much more than just a Christmas tradition. They are a public and physical witness to the Christian claim that God came to earth on a Christmas night in a town in Bethlehem of a land called Judea.  And, in this accusation they are absolutely correct.      

Many strong winds have altered the shape of our culture in the last fifty years. We are now largely a secular nation.  We still maintain reminders of our religious past like “in God we trust” on our coins and “under God” in our pledge of allegiance, but they are also under great pressure to be removed. Our president has even deemed it necessary to declare to the world that we are not a Christian nation. Many of our fellow citizens, if not most, would see this as a good thing. We are now open to all religions and all faiths and all ideas. No one, great and grand vision now shapes our nation. We magnanimously welcome to our nation all beliefs and faiths as long as they remain private and personal.

Underlying that position is the assumption that “faith” is subjective and a feeling. It is OK for you to believe whatever it is that helps you cope, but don’t try and tell the rest of us it is absolute. Don’t try to bring it into the public arena. And, don’t you dare claim a historical basis for your faith. Faith is more emotional than historical.

And, that is why the nativity scene is so offensive for hard core atheists and crucial for true believers. In wood and straw, in fabric and colors, in music and words, the nativity scenes are a physical reminder of a God who came to earth and took upon himself the body of a man. That baby, born of a virgin, in a city called Bethlehem, in the district called Judea, during the reign of Herod the Great, was none other than God in the flesh. The nativity declares to all that the story of Jesus Christ is not a fanciful fairy tale or a magical myth or trite tradition, but an historical truth. Uncomfortable as it may be for our secular neighbors, it cannot be ignored or privatized into triviality.

The nativity scene is a clash between reason and faith. Our naturalistic culture assumes that reason rests on public facts and faith rests upon private feelings. It assumes that reason is scientific and unbiased and faith is subjective and mystical. Reason deals with hard evidence while faith deals with personal preference.  But in the nativity scene, faith is presented as fact. You can dismiss it outright as religious myth, but you do so from an emotional bias. Until you investigate the evidence, found on the pages of Scripture and illustrated in the lives of historical figures, you are guilty of the same feelings-based “faith” that you ascribe to Christians.         

Christianity is above all else an announcement. It is a public declaration that God has come down to earth in Jesus Christ who is both the Creator and the Savior of mankind. It is not a feeling nor is it a wish. It is a declaration. It is not a philosophy or speculation. It is revelation. It is not man climbing to God but God’s coming to man. It is not subjective or private. It is objective and public. You can deny it but you cannot dismiss it. Christianity is just “there,” as surely as that nativity scene is “there.” You can get an injunction to have the nativity removed from the center of the city but you cannot remove it from the center of history.

Is the fight to keep the nativity at the center of our cities worth the cost of battle? It is for two reasons. 1] Our nation needs to see it there at the center of the city if only during the Christmas season. Once the Church steeple was the highest point of the town, now it is the corporate skyscraper. The nativity is public reminder of what was not only our reason for faith, but our reason for hope. America has been the greatest civilization in the history of mankind precisely because of the faith of her Christians. It is sad to see our nation turn away from God to worship idols. At every level of our civilization we are now seeing disintegration. The once grand vision that united our nation has been broken into 300 million idols fashioned by puny passions. The nativity is a reminder that what we are forsaking is not human tradition but divine truth.  

2] Our Churches need to fight to keep at the nativity at center of our Christmas if not at the center of our city. We are always in danger of being shaped by the values of our culture rather than by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am often reminded of the story Chuck Colson told in one of his books some twenty years ago. A prophet came to a city and continued to call out for the city to repent and turn back to God. The city refused to listen and demanded that he shut up. One citizen said, “Why don’t you stop preaching? Can’t you see nobody is listening?” He answered, “I am no longer preaching for the city. I am crying out for myself.”

The nativity, historical and true, stands as a concrete reminder that our faith in Jesus Christ does not rest upon our feelings or our reason but upon the Incarnation of God in human history. If the nation will not believe, we must keep on preaching so that we will.