Public Truth

I went Christmas caroling two nights ago with a group of people from Upper Room’s partner congregation in Greenfield. It was delightful, despite the fact that it was freezing out and by the time we finished I couldn’t feel my fingers. For an hour we walked up and down the streets of Greenfield, singing songs about Christ to whomever answered their doors.

Midway through the night, it hit me just how radical and subversive this gesture of holiday cheer actually was. We were singing lyrics like “Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” At any other time of the year, in any other way, if you knocked on someone’s door and told them they had gone astray and were under the influence of the devil, you would have a door slammed in your face. Knock on a door to announce the reign of a king who transcends all earthly authority and people will think you’re mad. Knock on a door to invite people to come adore with you a baby you think is God, and you’ll at least get some raised eyebrows. But sing it in a Christmas carol, and people smile and thank you.

I noticed a similar phenomenon this morning when I was working at the cafe.  We had the radio playing Christmas music, and every other song was singing truth about Jesus loud and clear enough to offend anyone who would actually listen closely. But no one complained. Is it because they weren’t really listening? Or is it because the truth behind the lyrics is part of the perennial appeal of Christmas music? If Christmas carolers and the radio can sing so freely this time of year about the birth of Jesus to people who may not believe in Him, what prevents us from speaking publicly about Jesus in other contexts?

Lesslie Newbigin spoke of the Gospel as “public truth.” He wrote, “Truth must be public truth, truth for all. A private truth for a limited circle of believers is no truth at all. Even the most devout faith will sooner or later falter and fail unless those who hold it are willing to bring it into public debate and to test it against experience in every area of life” (Foolishness to the Greeks, page 117). The good news of “Joy to the World” is a public truth, one which we should be able to share with confidence any time of year in any appropriate situation.  If we’re timid in sharing the Gospel in less sugar-coated forms than Christmas carols, we should pause to question why.  Do we fear rejection or dismissal? Do we fear that we won’t be able to answer the questions of others?  Why do we hesitate?

I have never been and have no desire to be a door-to-door evangelist.  That’s far from how I believe the Gospel is best communicated in our context.  But I want to have the same boldness in speaking about Jesus in any context that I had on Sunday night when we were knocking on doors and singing, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”  I want to speak with the confidence that the public truth of the Gospel really brings “tidings of comfort and joy” all year-round.

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