Four items hit in rapid succession that make me wonder what in the world is happening to Christmas?
#1 — I listened to a “secularist” on one of the news channels rant against having to “be forced” to celebrate Christmas. He is heading a group calling for the absolute eradication of anything and everything Christmas-related in the public sphere — including in malls and stores. (Which is why it will fail. If it was a battle against the church and religion, he might win, but against the Almighty Dollar? Think again.) What got me was this quote: “We are sick and tired of having religious images shoved in our face at every turn — stars, nativity scenes, crosses (a favorite Christmas symbol…), Jesus, Santa Claus and angels.” Santa Claus? Santa? When did Santa become a “religious image?” Oh sure, more kids worship Santa than Jesus, but come on. It’s hard enough for Christians to stay focused on Christ. Now our opponents have mashed-up the sacred and secular together to confuse the Christian faith. But I guess this shouldn’t be surprising since we Christians confused it first.
#2 — a young European living in Boston claims that he has proven unequivocally that the whole story of Jesus is a myth — including that he was ever an actual, living human being. He claims that Jesus is the equivalent of a first century marketing campaign — a mythic “wished for” character to settle the injustices of centuries that grew in epic proportions to the point that the original “promoters” lost control of the “message.” He maintains that there was no “historical” Jesus, no single body of Christian teaching and belief, and that the whole Christian movement through the centuries has all the integrity of a pop culture marketing campaign. He was interviewed, and said, “This should end all this circus. Now that we know that Jesus is a fiction, we can get rid of all these silly observances.” Uhm, yeah, Christmas will go away now. Good to know that all it takes is one atheist saying Jesus didn’t exist to set everything straight.
#3 — H1N1 scarorists are warning parents to keep their kids away from Santa at the mall. It seems that beards and fabric are infestatious breeding grounds for all kinds of horrible bacteria. One shell-shocked looking woman (with very scary hair) almost shrieked that parents who love their children will not let them anywhere near the lap of Kris Kringle (she actually said, “Kris Kringle” instead of Santa Claus…). News channels devoted large chunks of time to interviewing experts on the perils of a visit to the mall to see Santa. “All it takes is one sick child to infect not only Santa but literally thousands of innocent children. We could see a Christmas plague!” Now, there may be a legitimate health concern in all this, but I can’t help thinking of the four and five-year olds seeing news reports that Santa will make them sick and that they should avoid him at all costs
#4 — a billboard proudly proclaims “non-religious” Christmas services. On Christmas Eve, bring the family out for a rousing evening of singing non-religious Christmas songs, video clips from popular cartoons, “cookie and milk” communion, candy, and gifts for all kids under twelve. And, yes, it is being offered by a church (thankfully not United Methodist) as an “evangelism” program. Pastor Ron says, “we get them in to show them we’re just like they are and to treat them right, and some of them may like it well enough to come back!”
Okay, I realize this is America where everyone is free to express themselves any way they choose — which is why I get away with writing this blog — but Christmas has enough cards stacked against it as it is. Holding the religious center is harder and harder all the time. All the attempts to remove Jesus from Christmas are just weird, and it is probably up to the church to make sure Jesus doesn’t get lost altogether — rather than speeding up his departure. Even the simplicity of Santa — a beneficent and benign figure — is being turned into one more source of fear. What a great opportunity to bring faith, good news, and hope back to the story — to offer an alternative to all the negativity highlighted in the popular culture. Some say there is a war on Christmas, but it isn’t a war unless we get sucked into a defensive posture. Instead, it is time to stay focused on what we believe and to share our “evangel” with faith and integrity. Just because the world says it isn’t so, doesn’t make it true. Just because nativity scenes are removed from public lands and sacred songs are banned from public school programs doesn’t mean we need to fight. It simply means we need to return Christmas to the Christ and celebrate it in our churches and homes with as much joy and integrity as we possibly can.