Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Enough Already with the Christmas Wars!!!

Here I was, all ready to post some heart-warming story about my children, and then I run into several seasonal examples of "Christians behaving badly". So now all I want to do is go on about actually following Jesus for a change...

Instead, I'll post this column from a few years ago. It's another one that morphed into a chapter for "In My Heart I Carry A Star."

Read it. Think about it. Then - believers and non-believers alike - remember that this is the season of PEACE AND GOODWILL!!!

Enough already with the Christmas Wars!
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

Category: “Dates on the Church Calendar.” Answer, daily-double: “The source of our hope, the author of peace, and the only bona fide reason to celebrate Christmas Day.”
Question: “Who is Jesus?”

Answer: “The remarkable yet simple gift God gave the entire world, an infant born in a feed trough in a barn some 2,000 years ago.”
Question: “Who is God’s son?”

OK, I’ll admit that thousands of dollars in prizes and an invitation back as returning champion may not be riding on the correct answer. Nonetheless a surprising number of us routinely enter this second week of preparation for Christmas with our initial trajectory so far off we’re likely to miss the mark by a long shot. And that is some serious degree of jeopardy, so to speak.

We can get as politically correct as we like, and we can bend over backward not to offend the sensibilities of non-believers. That’s fine. But if - during this season of Hope and Peace - we allow ourselves for one moment to be distracted from the essential truth that is the foundation of and the avenue to real peace - then we might as well put the decorations away today. Because Christmas means absolutely nothing outside of Jesus.

Advent is about preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ. Advent is all about Gospel - the good news of Jesus. So it’s going to be critically important that we avoid becoming so distracted that we lose track of the central message.

Case in point: The uniquely American “Christmas Wars.” You know, those petty skirmishes where Christians and non-believers fight around the dim lines of political correctness, and argue regarding what the Constitution of the United States has to say about the relationship of church to state.

There’s still time to learn from our mistakes, so please oh please let’s avoid unwrapping the same tired reactionary arguments this year. Instead, let’s concentrate on the central message, the one the angels belted out with such gusto: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and
on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:1 4 NIV)
  • Controversy over Nativity displays in public places.
  • Store clerks forbidden to use the phrase “Merry Christmas.”
  • Store clerks required to use the phrase “Merry Christmas.”
  • The highly publicized removal then much ballyhooed return of Christmas Trees in airport concourses.
  • Nonsense spouted by ACLU spokespeople who are supposedly well educated and certainly should know better.
  • Nonsense spouted by loud obnoxious Christians who claim to represent the Prince of Peace and who really should know better.
  • Schools bullied into ignoring The Greatest Story Ever Told.
  • Confrontation replacing the joyful celebration of “Peace on Earth.”
  • Politicians using “Merry Christmas” as their personal campaign slogan.
  • Merchants who seem to believe the Holy Family were contracted to work directly with the folk over in Marketing.
  • Merchants becoming nervous and giving the Holy Family a less than holy pink-slip.
Wal-Mart – bless their corporate hearts - issued a statement in 2006 that offered the following glimpse into the politics of big business. “We're not afraid to use the term ‘Merry Christmas,’” a spokesperson told USA Today that November. “We'll use it early, and we'll use it often.”

Consequently many people took up the offensive.

I am a committed and very public Christian. I’m honest about my faith, and I let people know where I stand. My wife and I routinely embarrass our children by inviting strangers to church. Advent is all about Jesus and the wonder of his saving grace, and tens of thousands of people who read my newspaper column know precisely how I feel about the Prince of Peace.

But, despite all that, I have zero tolerance for intolerance when it comes to climbing on the “In your face about Christmas” bandwagon. And that’s especially true when I think about exactly what it is so many misguided participants in the public “Christmas Wars” are trying to save. Here’s a partial list:
  • Sectarian proselytizing disingenuously disguised as enthusiasm for Christ’s message.
  • Equal face-time for the Prince of Peace right up there with Rudolph, Frosty, Santa, MasterCard, Discovery, Visa and the elves.
  • The use of a displaced refugee family as a promotional tool for holiday shopping. (You have to admit they do make compelling window dressing.)
  • Garish reproductions of the Light of the World canned in tawdry illuminated plastic lawn-ornaments.
  • God's implied endorsement of conspicuous excess, personal greed, the abuse of consumer credit, and unrestrained consumption.
Why should we insist on playing the same tired game as everyone else? I believe the stand many Christians take has the effect of making Advent more confusing for non-believers. Why fight so hard to force faith into a common mold with the rest of society? Where is the peace in that? Why treat God as little more than one more interest group to mollify? Isn't Christianity supposed to be counter-cultural? Jesus certainly was.

We don’t need a permit from city hall to accomplish the work of healing and grace or to live in truth and light. Jesus didn't come to shop. Christ came, how did he put it? “To preach good news to the poor… proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

So I'm thinking maybe they can have Christmas, or at least THAT Christmas, the one we all seem to be so anxious about; I'm not so sure that we need it back.

Maybe as Christians we should think seriously about enjoying that mythical line of separation rather that struggling so hard to erase it - or to pretend that it isn't there - or to drag ourselves so completely into the mess that is North American Consumer Culture that the Gospel of Truth ceases to have anything novel or revolutionary to say anymore.

Stick that in your stocking and put it under the tree.

This is a good time to huddle together with like-minded souls, and to make sure that we are communicating the straight scoop about Christmas. That’s a great goal for how we approach Advent. Peace is an action concept, it’s not going to happen if we back away and let the darkness win. We cannot assume that the correct message is coming through clearly from anywhere else.

Advent makes for a marvelous opportunity to share our faith, and it’s critical that we begin this process by sharing the Peace of Christ with our own family. It’s quite probable that in the sharing we will find our own faith reawakened, and our Advent illuminated - both with new Hope and a deep abiding peace.

The kind of peace you can take to the bank. The kind of peace that is wrapped up in truth, and I’m talking about the kind of truth that works for healing and restoration. It’s the kind of peace that is going to lead us directly into the presence of Jesus.

PRAYER: Reawaken our hearts to the witness of your love, Lord, and speak though our community of faith, our friends, and our families to a misinformed and confused world. We ask in the name of Jesus, who brings a peace that heals. Amen.


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