Maybe this post is too little too late, but it seems like every time I sign onto Facebook there’s a half dozen posts and/or “status” updates from Christian friends urging fellow Facebook-o-philes to “keep Christ in Christmas.”
This is usually the same crowd that protests the abbreviation “X-Mas” (apparently forgetting that the “X” is actually the Greek letter chi, thus standing for Christ) or retail stores saying “Happy Holidays.” Apparently if the checkout girl at the grocery store acknowledges Jesus than I should feel better about putting my purchase on her conveyor belt.
But you know something?
I don’t care.
I know, I know; I should open my wallet and take my “Christian” card out and pass it in, because it seems like this is the time of year to get all huffy about the name of Jesus and the public square.
But no, I don’t care. And here’s why:
CHECKOUT LINES AND LINUS
About a week or so ago my older sister, Heather, was in a local Christmas store (and to be clear, the name of the store had “Christmas” in the title, so there was no ambiguity regarding the store’s fundamental nature) making a purchase. She happened to be wearing a sweatshirt depicting a scene from the Charlie Brown Christmas special that we all grew up with. In the middle of the frenzy of making her purchase and getting the heck outta dodge, the guy behind the counter noticed her shirt and commented that it was one of his favorite Christmas specials.
“And you know, that speech he gave at the end?” he continued, referring to Linus’ famous recitation of Luke’s nativity account (“Lights please…”). “Well,” he said, “somebody told me that that’s in the Bible. I never knew that something so beautiful could be in the Bible.”
This of course, was within the same time period that some friends of hers made the comment that they were fascinated by the way the preacher at a Christmas service made a connection between Christmas and religion.
Several things have happened: secularism, deconstructionism and pluralism. Secularism separates Christmas from its Biblical roots, and deconstructionism situates the meaning of Christmas with the individual and his/her family. This means that for many, Christmas is a time of family togetherness, warmth and all that peace-on-earth kind of fuzziness that doesn’t extend much farther than the living room. Meanwhile, religious pluralism prevents public places from proclaiming the message of Christmas any farther than this, and almost never by using the actual word “Christmas,” preferring the more politically correct “Happy Holidays.”
So…my question: in a culture like this, why would we ever expect everyone to embrace the idea of Christmas? Don’t get me wrong: I love Jesus. I want everyone to come to love Jesus. But we have to take seriously the sociological realities that surround us.
And if I can be a bit abrasive, I would suggest that the failure often resides with us as Christians, who would rather live safely behind the walls of the church than actively engage the world for Christ.
SEEKING THE CITY’S GOOD
The same thing was happening when Israel was in captivity in Babylon. Fearing the pagan practices of the Babylonians, the Israelites retreated outside the boundaries of Babylonian culture. But this was the opposite of God’s will for His people. So through the prophet Jeremiah God says this:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
If the Great Commission calls us to “make disciples” of all people groups [panta ta ethne], then we too must “seek the peace [shalom] of the city,” and actively engage our world for the cause of Christ.
The irony, pointed out by Sally Morgenthaler in her book Worship Evangelism, is that at Christmas the secular world, so hung up on the idea of “spirituality” is ready to sing songs about the Savior. Suddenly radio stations crackle to life with Madonna singing Christian hymns, suddenly our big-box stores are playing songs about the birth of the Savior. Like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), they need someone to come alongside them to help them interpret the cultural text they seem to be reading from.
But this does not mean smugly correcting the checkout girl by insisting on “Merry Christmas.” I’m so much less concerned about whether our retailers are talking about Jesus, and more concerned with whether our churches are incarnating His truth. In John’s gospel Christ tells His followers that “as the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). We are to incarnate God’s truth into our world with the same courage, grace and humility of the Savior. This often has more to do with the way we treat one another and who we explicitly share the gospel with than whether we can coerce others to say “Merry Christmas.”
A GREAT DEFICIT
So no, it does not bother me when retailers and other public agencies say “Happy Holidays.” But here’s what does bother me, and if you are a believer in Christ than it should bother you as well.
There is a tremendous deficit in the pulpit of America’s churches. There are churches that spend less time talking about Christ and His gospel and more time on the 8 principles of financial success, how to have a healthy marriage and how to be a better you by 2010. I wish I could tell you that “none of these are bad, but…” but the truth is I’ve said that before and probably didn’t really mean it. They are awful. There’s a reason Paul called his religious upbringing a pile of (ahem) skubala (Philippians 3:8…skubala…that’d be a good thing for you to google later).
I’m not that concerned about retailers refraining from the word Christmas. But if your pastor doesn’t talk about Jesus, then he or she is weak, spineless and frankly needs to find a job they don’t suck at.
As for the rest of us, we can wish everyone a “Merry Christmas,” but let’s not forget that our representation of the Savior runs far deeper than the season’s greetings.