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Friday, December 07, 2012

I'm afraid I've won the "War on Christmas"

I think I've won the war on Christmas. I shouldn't have. I should have lost it, and let the Christ of Christmas be the winner in my life. I'm not speaking of the "war on Christmas" that some people are. I'm speaking of another, more important one, the real one.

. . . Christmas itself has now far outstripped Easter in popular culture as the real celebratory center of the Christian year -- a move that completely reverses the New Testament's emphasis. We sometimes try, in hymns, prayers, and sermons, to build a whole theology on Christmas, but it can't in fact sustain such a thing. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperOne, 2008, p. 23.

The War on Christmas, in most people's minds.

Every year, at about this time, we hear about the so-called "War on Christmas." The Wikipedia even has an article on "Christmas Controversy."

To quote the Wikipedia: "Modern-day controversy occurs mainly in western countries such as the United States, Canada, and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom and Ireland, and usually stems from a contrast between the holiday's significant social and economic role in these countries and its strong association with Christianity in an increasingly multiculturally sensitive and religiously diversifying society." Let me consider three of the reasons that some Christians say that there is such a war.

1) Some uninformed people object to the use of Xmas, believing that that is minimizing Christ, for whom Christmas was named. However, Xmas has been a common way  of representing Christ's name in written form. The X comes from the Greek letter chi, which looks like an X, and is the first letter of the word for Christ in Greek, which is Χριστός (Christos). See the Wikipedia article on that Greek letter for more. The labarum, which uses chi and rho, the second letter in the Greek word for Christ, plus a cross, to represent Christ, is an important symbol in some churches.

2) Some Christians, and some others, believe that manger scenes, or crèches, should be displayed by city or other local governments. Other people object, on the grounds that doing that is a violation of the Constitutional separation of Church and State, and the courts have generally agreed with them.

There should be separation of Church and state, such that local, state, and national governments should not officially recognize Wiccan, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion's special days. (We do have an official Christmas holiday in this country, and I'm not advocating doing away with that. Even people of other faiths usually seem to enjoy and celebrate the Christmas holiday, at least as a day off. Recognizing Christmas by a national holiday is a longstanding tradition, even though it is, after all, a recognition, by government, of a Christian special day. But let's not go further.)

Back to government recognition of Christmas, or not. Fighting for manger scenes at Christmas time seems like a strange battle. We don't know when Christ was born, not even the exact year, let alone the month and the day.

Besides that, manger scenes are usually inaccurate. There is no Biblical evidence that the shepherds who came to visit Christ stayed very long, and that their visit overlapped with that of the wise men. Almost no Bible scholars think that the wise men came while the shepherds were there. Except for the fact that there were three gifts mentioned, there's no evidence that there were three wise men, or astrologers. Perhaps there were two, or a dozen. It may have been three, but we aren't sure. There's no suggestion, in the Bible, that they came from three different races. The Bible does not say that they came on camels. Perhaps they did, but there's no solid evidence for it.

The current Pope has even gone so far as to point out that there is no evidence that there were any animals in the stable where Christ was born. (The Vatican uses animals in its nativity scenes, and the Pope concedes that Christians, including Catholics, aren't going to stop including them.)

There is no good reason why a church, or a private individual or organization, cannot display a manger scene at Christmas, or on the Fourth of July, for that matter. But Christians shouldn't try to get the government to sponsor an inaccurate symbol to be displayed at what may be the wrong time of year.

3) There are also complaints when "Christmas cards" have no reference to Christmas, or when someone says, or writes, "Happy Holidays," rather than "Merry Christmas."

It's certainly true that these things happen. But should those who hold Christ, and His name, to be deeply significant, be offended? I'm not sure that we should. Commerce, in North America, takes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the other days through December 24 as serious shopping times. Jobs depend on selling lots of stuff. There is music played over the speaker systems in stores, and on the radio. We expect to hear "Jingle Bell Rock," "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," "The Christmas Song," "Here Comes Santa Claus," and the like, most of them have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Some do, of course, such as "Silent Night." "Little Drummer Boy" has a little to do with Christ's birth, but drums, as we think of them, weren't developed until centuries after Christ's birth. (Here's one list of the greatest "Christmas" songs. Many of them don't mention Christ.) Santa Claus, not Christ, is the main attraction in most Christmas parades. We expect to see, if we wish, various TV programs dealing with the season, such as one about Rudolph, or Frosty, or the Grinch. The latter, at least, acknowledges the importance of a spirit of generosity, but the TV program about that green creature makes no mention of the birth of Christ, and the others usually don't, either.

We should be generous all year. There's nothing wrong with giving so-called "Christmas presents," but I suspect that, even in the family celebrations of most believers, we don't connect doing that with the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus, or with Christ's gift of freedom from sin, other than, perhaps, reading part of Luke 2. Most of the symbols associated with Christmas have a life of their own, independent of any connection with the birth of Christ. It is possible to connect most of them with His life, and some of us try to, but sometimes the connection is pretty tenuous, and is easy to forget. Can you tell me what the color red, or Christmas trees, have to do with Christ's birth? I can't.

What am I saying? I'm saying that, in fact, a month or so of the calendar is largely dedicated, not to the birth of Christ, but to increasing sales for the year, to displaying traditional symbols, to greeting others, and giving to other people. Most giving to others, co-workers, the poor, or our own families, is not much connected to Christ's birth. It's just a seasonal habit, and much of it is commercially driven, or because we want to take an income tax deduction, or because we want to feel good about ourselves. Giving to others, in the right spirit, is a good thing, but most of it, in December, is not directly related to Christ's birth. It's no wonder that some people, and some businesses, use "Happy Holidays," rather than "Merry Christmas." And "Merry Christmas" is not about Christ's birth, either. Being merry is about gifts, and families, Christmas bonuses, and days off. A more appropriate exclamation would be "Blessed Christmas," if we mean it. Almost all of us, including those of us who claim to be followers of Christ, spend more time, money, and thought on addressing cards, selecting, wrapping, giving and receiving presents, eating with others, wondering if it will snow, traveling, and listening to, or watching, traditional material in the media than we do thinking about the significance of the birth of Christ. Why blame Walmart or ESPN or whoever, when they say "Happy Holidays?"

The real war on Christmas.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with taking part in many of the customs of the culture in which we live, associated with the time period between late November and early January. That is, unless doing so turns us into selfish whiners with too much to do to be really generous and loving to others, or into crabs, complaining because we can't find the perfect gift, or because someone else doesn't share our family or church traditions. But taking part in these things should not take up most of our attention. They need to be kept in perspective, eternal perspective.

Christ, the creator and sustainer of the universe, came from heaven, at our great need. He came to develop as an embryo in Mary's womb, to be born, to live as a great teacher, die as a sinless sacrifice for our sins, and come back from death to prove that He had accomplished that task. If I forget that, or fail to emphasize it in my own thoughts, I've won the war on Christmas, the wrong one, when I should have lost it.

If my life, my thoughts, and my words don't make the accomplishment of Christ more important than Christmas traditions, or my hobbies, my job (or lack thereof), my team, my political agenda, my family and friends, or even my church, then I've won the war on Christmas, and Christmas has lost it, as far as my own personal battleground is concerned. Christmas has lost this war because I don't keep the truth of Christ's accomplishment as the most important thing in my head, year round. My mind is not on Christmas, and what it really means. It's on peripheral things.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. 6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John*. 7 The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light. 9 The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own, and those who were his own didn’t receive him. 12 But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name: 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.  *John the Baptist

1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (World English Bible, public domain)

Thanks for reading. God help me, and you. Blessed Christmas!

*  *  *  *

I added the quotation from N. T. Wright on January 2, 2013.


i am Grateful... Kerry i am. said...

Your mind amazes me... and inspires me, too. Blessed Christmas, brother.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Kerry i am.

Your faithfulness to God amazes me.

Blessed Christmas.

Uzzie Cannon said...

Well said and so true!!!!!! What pains me with this holiday season is how people forget the spirit of it the rest of the year. We must take it upon ourselves to keep the meaning of Christ's life in perspective all year long because, as you said, commerce has a whole other agenda that must and will be met during some holiday, especially during the Christmas holiday.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks so much, Uzzie. I'll repeat this comment to your comment on my Facebook page.

As Ebenezer Scrooge put it, "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." - Charles Dickens, _A Christmas Carol_, public domain.

Philip Smith said...

Very well thought out.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Philip.