Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Power of Symbols, Christmas

One of the best books I read this year was The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens (who writes incredibly well, like his recently deceased brother). As we approach Christmas I was reminded of his discussion of the Communist attempt to suppress any vestige of Christmas in Russia. Drawing from written sources and his own experience living in Russia, Hitchens described the Communist concern especially to turn children away from religious interest. Then he provided the following quote from a pamphlet titled, “Against the Christmas Tree” which has been published in a series called “The Library of the Young Atheist”:
“ ‘Millions of little children are brought up by very religious grandmothers. For such children the Christmas tree represents a very great danger.... Not one Young Pioneer detachment, not one school and not one group of young and Atheists should leave children of pre-school age unattended during the Christmas holidays. The struggle against the Christmas tree is the struggle against religion and against our class enemies.’” (181)
My point here is not trees but the value of symbols and traditions. When an atheistic regime sought to stamp out Christianity they were deeply concerned about the power of symbols to keep alive religious memory. Too often today Christians breezily dismiss “mere symbols” claiming to be concerned only with the “real idea.” This is short-sighted and ignorant of history and human nature- not to mention ignorant of the Bible since God saw fit to give us symbols.

The potential application of this point is broad, but, to speak of Christmas, we do much of our best teaching and discipling when we use good symbols, investing them with biblical meaning and incorporating them into meaningful, appropriate traditions. These things will stick with our children and our churches for years to come providing pegs for biblical truths and armor against cynicism. So as you prepare for and celebrate Christmas make the most of your traditions and symbols, enjoying and celebrating the appearing of God’s saving grace (Titus 2:11).

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