Over the last ten or so years we have been hearing a lot about the “War on Christmas.” What I would like to do in this blog is explore this phrase and consider what it is. Naturally, I would like to give some insight on how a believer might respond to this “War on Christmas.”
Some might say that the War on Christmas is an attempt by secular progressives to eradicate or downplay any religious elements in the celebration of Christmas. Conservatives fight back and insist that religious elements are traditional and should be celebrated in our country as they always have been. The War on Christmas has to do with control. It has to do with how Christmas is or isn’t celebrated in the public square. Nobody is telling anyone else what to do in their homes or private property. No, the issue is how we as a country will celebrate this Federal Holiday.
Why is this such a big deal? We live in a country where the will of the people is ultimately sovereign. Some people like celebrating Christmas and talking about the religious elements of the holiday, others do not. Those who do not like it naturally try to enforce their will upon others. Those who do like the religious elements of Christmas, not surprisingly, try to keep these elements in practice! So far things are pretty normal. Everyone tries to mold things to their own liking. The problem is that we live in the same country. Nobody likes to live in a country where one’s views are contrary to cultural norms. In other words, everyone prefers his preferences to rule.
What does this War on Christmas look like? There are disputes on whether one should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings. The argument goes that saying Happy Holidays dodges confessing that Christmas is Christian in nature. Saying Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings is a cop out. Such a greeting is weak and falls short of the full orbed greeting “Merry Christmas!” Furthermore, it is a deliberate attempt to undermine Jesus as the reason for the season. National voices urge the faithful to boycott institutions or retailers who instruct their workers to use blander greetings which fall short of “Merry Christmas.” The dispute also manifests itself in the Nativity scene displays or similar scenarios. A long honored tradition in a given city or town might be to put up a Nativity scene. One day, a detractor walks by the scene, his/her feelings and beliefs are offended by this, and he/she works to do away with the display and does so successively. Or, this same detractor goes through this process and loses.
There is no mistaking it. The idea of Christmas has its origins in the New Testament. The celebration of Jesus’ birth is historically the point of Christmas. However, this fundamental point is lost to many people. The celebration of Christmas has changed. Today Christmas isn’t so much about recognizing the birth of Christ and by extension his divinity. It is about getting together with family. It is about singing songs like Jingle Bells. It is about radio stations playing Christmas music all day for a month. Christmas is about buying gifts on black Friday or now Thursday, wrapping them, and putting them under a tree. It is about getting up and opening one’s gifts. Christmas is about Santa Claus, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, elves, chimneys, cookies and milk. Christmas is about sentimental feeling, doing a good turn, watching a movie about being nice and feeling good, and generally having good will. Christmas is more of a month long process, wrung out completely with the 25th being more of a whimper. The list goes on but much of the holiday adornment is fairly harmless and some might even say kitschy.
If my description about Christmas seems inaccurate I would simply point you to the culture in which we live. I live in Franklin, TN and my kids are in the public school system. They sing songs in school but they do not sing carols that speak to Jesus’ divinity or are blatantly biblical. Every Black Friday or Thursday we read about crowds massing at Wal-Mart, people trampling one another to death, parking lot arguments, and shootings. This is not theoretical, it is real. Inside the church the celebration of Christmas might be a little more pointed but not in the culture.
So we have depicted what is happening on the ground. The culture prefers more and more to not celebrate the virgin birth of Christ; rather, the culture and I might add, believers too, are celebrating festivity and sentiment. And now we get back to the war. What shall we do? This is where I think believers are making a grave error. Believers think that fighting for God is a matter of winning the War on Christmas. Fighting the War on Christmas amounts to pushing back moral decay and affirming God. Victory in this war equals people saying “Merry Christmas” and Nativity scenes being acceptable. Should these and other things be normative, believers can take a deep breath and relax, the war will be won. Until then we must strive and fight. Let’s vigorously insist on saying “Merry Christmas” and give our business to stores that are friendly to Christmas. So the sentiment goes.
Here is the major flaw. The mandate for believers is to make disciples not win the War on Christmas. I submit to you that the War on Christmas is not only misplaced and unwinnable but it is a diversion from our primary work. It is misplaced because this isn’t the mandate. It is unwinnable because we’re trying to censor speech and control preferences. If being a Christian amounts to campaigns on winning the War on Christmas then Christianity amounts to a coercive religion. Why get someone to say “Merry Christmas” when he doesn’t want to? Christianity does not coerce, no, it persuades men to bend the knee to Jesus at the heart level. Imagine then the distortion we preach when we link ourselves to campaigns like winning the War on Christmas! Do we really equate Christianity to getting the right to do a Nativity scene? It seems to me that our energy and our worship would be better spent elsewhere. As I see it, we are fighting for the form when the godliness that supports the form is already long gone.
Somebody might say, “You are weak and cowardly, stand up for your beliefs!” I do. I believe that Jesus is the virgin-born Son of God but if someone demurs that is quite alright. Am I saying it isn’t ok for believers to do Nativity scenes and say Merry Christmas? No! Let’s use the legal channels available to secure that privilege if we can. It does seem shameful, to me, that such sweet displays would be shouted down by an angry recalcitrant minority. We should heartily commend and participate in erecting displays and invest in these measures because it breaths fresh air into the fabric of our culture. It speaks of hope, beauty, and reminds us of Jesus. True authentic pictures of divinity displayed in humanity speak of mercy, grace, and forgiveness of sins. I’m so glad that churches and individuals celebrate Jesus’ birth like this publically. But this isn’t the ultimate goal.
Let me give two final words in conclusion. First, we ought not link Christianity to winning a popularity contest or cultural acceptance. This keeps the faith at a surface legislative level. It also blunts the gospel by seeking to coerce or dishonestly allure people. Secondly, the good news is that we can celebrate Jesus as much as we want! Whether there is a law or not, believers have always been able to worship Jesus, albeit, sometimes with consequences. This Christmas you can worship Jesus and thank him for coming. And, nobody can do anything about it! You can worship to your heart’s delight! Take comfort in this. We needn’t feel discomfort or sadness because somewhere a judge doesn’t allow Nativity scenes. Naturally our hearts ache at all unbelief but if someone doesn’t like Jesus then this is between him and Jesus. For us, let us pursue him all the more and enjoy him. The feast is all ours.