christmas, culture, and love
If you watch The Office, you probably saw the loveable Stanley Hudson’s speech a couple of weeks ago. Instead of a Christmas party, the office had a holiday party. Stanley was bothered and went on a tirade about some of the effects of political correctness.
Most of us are familiar with the cultural trend of modifying specifically Christian Christmas practices and vocabulary to become general and inclusive. We say “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We go to Holiday, not Christmas, parties.
Also, if you were once unfamiliar with other religious practices that take place this time of year, that has likely changed. We now know more about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and winter solstice and the celebrations that go along with them.
As I reflect on this trend and the Christian response, I have observed two different groups of people: Christians who care and Christians who don’t.
Christians who care. There are some Christians who, out of personal conviction and a desire to be faithful, refuse to give in to this cultural trend. Standing firm, they exclaim “Merry Christmas” to everyone in their path and may even wear a T-Shirt or drink from a coffee mug that reads, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
For many, their struggle is less about Christian faithfulness and more about the difficulty of adjusting to a changing world. They grew up in a time and place where the majority of folks celebrated Christmas in a Christian way. Everyone went to church and commemorated God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. It can be a very disorienting experience to have accepted habits and vocabulary become unacceptable in the span of only a few years.
Regardless of why they care about this cultural trend, fear is often a part of the equation.
Christians who don’t care. There are other Christians who, because of personal history, don’t care that this season’s practices and vocabulary are no longer strictly Christian. They feel no loss when the departing word from a friend is “Have a great holiday.” They may even wear a “Jesus is the reason for the season” T-shirt, but not out of personal conviction, rather in an effort to be ironic.
If I’m honest, I tend to fall into this camp. Christians who don’t care are usually cynical. They may have been hurt or embarrassed by mainstream Christianity and, as a result, try to avoid giving the impression that that they’re “one of those people.” This way of living is often less about loving neighbors and more about protecting one’s image.
Christians who love. I think that both sets of people, Christians who care and Christian who don’t, have it wrong. I want to propose a third way: Christians who love. This way does not come with a script or specific commands. It requires wisdom derived from Christian principles as taught in Scripture.
First, Christians who love should pray and think critically about this issue because, in essence, it is a discussion about how we ought to live in the world. This includes praying and thinking about how to be present at work, in our neighborhood, and with family and friends. Whatever one decides must influenced by a desire to serve God and others (not oneself).
Second, Christians who love make the main thing the main thing. Jesus did not come to establish a holiday but to offer his life a sacrifice on behalf of humanity. Our passion is not for a culture that celebrates Christmas but one that has a relationship with Jesus.
Third, Christians who love, love their neighbors. We may do this is a number of ways. I will mention two.
We may love our neighbor by making the main thing the main thing. Most of my neighbors, though not Christian themselves, are familiar with Christians. Their familiarity isn’t always accurate. In fact, it is usually a caricature. I asked my neighbor once what he thought about Christians. He said, “I think Christians are crazy and care about the strangest things.” To be sure, Christianity is weird, but it needs to be weird for the right reasons. It needs to be weird because we believe that God came to earth, lived and died and is coming back to make all things new. Christianity should be weird because followers of Jesus refuse to participate in popular, accepted activities that go against God’s commands. Christians should not be weird because they make their neighbor, who isn’t a Christian, practice Christmas in a Christian way.
We may also love neighbors by not demanding our own way. In recognition that there are other religious holidays celebrated at this time of year, we do need to be sensitive. There are some people who actually do get offended that we say Merry Christmas. Loving those people means not demanding that they do what is best for us.
Fourth, Christians who love celebrate Christmas. To live faithfully means to live distinctively Christian lives. In the context of Christmas, we do this by celebrating the birth of Jesus. We should do this with freedom and without apology.
At the same time, Christians do not need to scoff at our culture’s belief that the true spirit of Christmas is love, peace, family and giving. Such things are gifts from God and to celebrate them, whether acknowledge as being from God or not, is good. Nor do we need to have a defensive posture toward non-Christians because “they don’t get it.” I recently read an article written by an atheist whose point was that Christmas is not just for Christians. In a way, I agree with him. He celebrates Christmas by decorating a tree, listening to Christmas music, making Christmas treats, and spending time with loved ones. We have solidarity even with those who don’t have the same theological convictions because what they celebrate is good.
Fifth, Christians who love are not cynical. Cynicism can be a very powerful force in one’s life. It can start small and blossom into full-blown indifference. Cynicism during this season may mean you miss out. Though it is not a command for the Christian to celebrate Christmas, it can be a means to experience God’s grace.
My point: Be faithful, love people and celebrate.