Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

A re-post from a piece I wrote last year:

Recently our local newspaper did a story on a recent happening at Focus on the Family--the organization is rating local shops on how "Christian" they are. They are having participants from around the country chime in and share their judgment (friendly, negligent, or offensive) of particular stores based on how they are greeted, how the store does its marketing, and their signage, etc. If they say, "Merry Christmas" they are rated high, if they say other holiday greetings, they are rated low.

This story saddens me so much I don't even know where to begin. But I feel I must.

As a Christian who should be rooting for the "home team," I know this sounds harsh. But my take on the Bible does not command me to cheer on my "home team" as much as it challenges me to love non-believers, or the "other" team, if you will. And because of my Jewish friends, my atheist friends, my Mormon friends, my Muslim friends, and my "other" friends, this throws my witness and my testimony about who Jesus Christ and his followers are back a few thousand feet.

And speaking of going back, let's root ourselves in a little history, shall we? Only a few hundred years ago, the Puritans and many other Christian groups in England, outlawed the celebration of Christmas because they did not consider it a truly religious holiday, and thought it promoted too many secular ideas. Many also realized that its roots were in pagan rituals, celebrating the Winter Solstice. 325 AD was when Jesus' birth was estimated to have been around December 25, but this was contested for years, and many scholars are fairly certain Jesus was born in the Spring because of the few cultural hints that exist. It wasn't until the mid 1800s that Christmas was celebrated widely, which was led mostly by secular institutions to recognize the class differences and offer hospitality to the poor, this was also the time when Santa Claus became popular thanks in large part to Coca Cola. And in America, does anyone recall Article 11 in the Treaty of Tripoli?

Let's not pretend that we don't recognize this day as an over-commercialized, secular holiday. I suspect that throwing a little sign in the window that says, "Jesus is the reason for the season" eases a little bit of that guilt coming from those who are overly indulging their credit card.

So, I have a difficult time hearing Christians defending a holiday that they claim was created to celebrate the birth of Jesus, when, in fact, it was not. My family has chosen to make that a part of our tradition, and it can be lovely--especially when those of us who love Jesus hear devotion to him come out of our children's mouths in song... but to pretend that it hasn't become a picture of extravagant consumption is to kid yourself. And to impose this on everyone? Knowing full well that we live in a country that allows freedom of religion, and to pretend that our hard-earned money to spoil our children will only be spent on institutions who feel likewise? If this is really their intention then why don't look at a few other issues--like which stores treat their employees fairly, which stores do not use sweatshops, which stores offer fair health care programs to their employees, etc. this seems much more "Christian" than one who merely says the word. Ah, but perhaps I found the rub.

And to my brother, who says I should be wary of judging the "other side" so harshly, I say this: Sometimes it's necessary to step up and stop an atrocity. If only more Christians had spoken up during the early days of the Nazi's regime we may have avoided millions of deaths. And yes, I do see some similarities. Focus criticized those stores that said "Happy Hanukkah" as trying to be too inclusive. I know enough about pre-Nazi Germany to know that the Holocaust started with small acts such as these. I don't believe that Jesus calls us to be nice and docile, rather to stop injustices. He was pretty harsh himself to the Pharisees.

I just do not foresee any people coming to know a loving Savior because of these sorts of efforts from Focus and other such groups and campaigns. None of my friends of other faiths are knocking down my door to hear more about this Jesus I claim to know and love because they were introduced to him through a sign at Walmart. I fear, rather, that these efforts scare would-be converts away rather than draw them in.

I choose to celebrate Christmas because I love Jesus Christ and am thankful for all that he has done, mostly that he was born and sacrificed his life so that I may live. My deep gratitude for that sacrifice is what compels me to enter into this conversation, and attempt to offer a little insight, at least in terms of why I get sad over Focus on the Family. I choose to celebrate his birth in association with this day, because it is what my community does, it is how I grew up, it is an introduction to my children of the saving relationship I hope they have with him. I do not, however, choose to impose this tradition on those around me by giving or not giving my business to a certain store.

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