Christmas is traditionally a time for family. And since no family tree can be completely homogenous Christians will be dining with unbelievers on Christmas Day. And sadly, some Christians I know are dreading that time.
You know the type: the believing bubble babies who were birthed into a Christian home, were either homeschooled or attended Christian school K-thru-college, and got a job in a sanitized and Christianized office where even the janitor has a fish sticker on his minivan. They get their teeth whitened by a Christian dentist and their oil changed by a Christian mechanic.
But the one time of the year they can’t escape rubbing shoulders with spiritual grime is at Christmas. Perhaps they even wish God would do some pruning of their family tree to make life neater.
Having been an unbeliever for many years I have news for that crew: your unbelieving family members are also dreading time with you. They view you as an annoying, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou hypocrite.
This species of believer is not going to change its ways by reading a blog post. They will either mature into loving, gracious, witnesses for Christ, or they will become more entrenched in their judgmental ways until no family invites them over anymore. But if you are one, and would like to try change, here is one simple strategy to employ this Christmas to be less abrasive to unbelieving family and friends: accept that mud is muddy.
If you know that you are visiting a muddy venue (think motor cross on a rainy day) you will wear boots and expect them to need a wash afterwards. If you dressed for a wedding and stood in a puddle wearing your polished Florsheims, you would be understandably unimpressed. Going into a Christmas dinner with unbelievers is only as frustrating as your expectations. Expect sinners to sin and you will take it in your stride; if you expect unbelievers to treat Christmas the way you do, or converse without punctuating their speech with scatology, then you will be as frustrated as a lady wearing pumps on the beach.
Paul said to expect unbelievers to behave like unbelievers. In 1 Corinthians 5 the Apostle to the Gentiles gave clear instructions that Christians who try to avoid being around sinful unbelievers end up needing to leave the planet.
1 Cor 5:9-10 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
Paul is clarifying that though it is prudent to avoid close association with unrepentant professing believers who are under church discipline, it is not right to try escape being near unbelievers. How else are you meant to be salt and light? How else are you meant to be like Jesus?
Being in an environment that is 100% free from swearing, perverse innuendo, gossip, lying, bragging, and other things your unbelieving relatives do without blinking, is not normal life. Yuri Gagarin, David Blaine, and stylite monks are not paragons of normalcy. And yet, the quest to avoid people sinning against you or even around you is not what God had in mind for us this side of Heaven.
Jesus left his sinless world to live in our sinful one. And he endured it without sinning himself. He didn’t join Levi’s party to contextualize his message or make the tax collectors think he was hip; he went there because he was invited, and because he came into the world to save sinners. And they hung out at Levi’s house. And I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t surprised by what he saw and heard at that gathering.
When you feast with family this Christmas remember that it isn’t sinful to be around sin. You can avoid participating in sin, without being judgmental in your demeanor. The secret is to adjust your expectations, warn your kids about what they might encounter, use what they see as a teaching opportunity, and get your mud boots on.
[This is post was first published on 22 Dec, 2014]