Is There a Place for Unbelief in Christmas?


The week prior to Thanksgiving NPR radio aired an interview about the origins, meaning, and traditions surrounding Thanksgiving. What was left out, erased, from this “story” was any mention of God and thankfulness as a “believer’s virtue.” Listening to that reinterpretation, which chose an arc that erased a Christian perspective, I wondered what will be the new story told about Christmas? Will Christmas be “cleansed” of Christ and replaced with a commercialized sense of well-being, channeled through the act of giving gifts?

As our American culture becomes more faith-resisting and less Christian in orientation, I think, as believers of the divine story of Jesus, we are challenged to think through the way we confess our belief, particularly during this time of Christmas, while there still remains a cultural nod toward belief.

This leads me to the question for this reflection, “Is there a place for unbelief in Christmas?

Isn’t that an interesting question! Is there a role for unbelief among us who confess Jesus Christ? I believe the answer is yes. Because we believe in the virgin birth of King Jesus in a stable, of a holy star that guided the wise, and a heavenly host that appeared to the poor with “tidings of great joy,” we would do well to let unbelief have the opportunity to direct our presentation of the Christmas story to address the needs and questions of unbelief. 

Here are some of those needs and questions of unbelief which we can address through the Christmas story:

Christianity is no longer relevant in today’s world. This argument against belief found fertile ground in the great wars of the 20th century. It seemed like those wars, occurring among Christian nations, surely demonstrated that Christianity is not an answer, let alone the answer. Yet our world remains a place of war and strife. The call for peace, for joy, for love is as strong today as ever, yet unbelief has no path to them. Our message as Christians is exactly what the world longs for. Christmas celebrates the source for peace, joy, and love.

God doesn’t exist. The search for some overarching power is a constant in human history, whether that power be in divine beings, an inanimate force, economic systems, or political ideology. Humans innately comprehend our personal worlds are too finite to stand alone in the universe, thus we seek a larger explanation. The apostle John described the answer to this human search with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-5). The Christmas story displays the light of the star that draws us to the light of the world.

Science explains everything. This thought plays non-stop through the notion of scientific determinism. People continue to look for the ultimate answers to the causes of life and beginnings. Yet science finds itself wanting when trying to explain human nature, the willingness to sacrifice, or how to provide hope amidst hopelessness. The Christmas story calls us to see beyond the imminence of King Herod to the transcendence of the babe in the manger.

The problem of evil. If God is all powerful and all good, then how come there is still evil? This argument troubles so many people. They assume that the only answer an all good, all powerful God would give to evil is its removal. The Christmas answer is Immanuel, God with us. God incarnated himself among us to woo us towards his better way of life.

Faith doesn’t work. Have the alternatives? The wisest men of their time came to see for themselves the babe of whom the universe spoke, and the heavenly host announced. At Christmas we invite those around us, like the wise men, to come and see for themselves. Christmas is an invitation for everyone to explore the path towards belief.

Is there a place for unbelief in Christmas? I believe the answer is yes! Unbelief asks the questions that only the story of Jesus answers. Celebrate Christmas well my friends, for you are the light of the world!

Stan Granberg, trustee

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