Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Win the War on Christmas By Losing

"Every time you say 'Happy Holidays,' an angel gets AIDS."– Jon Stewart, on the absurdity of the intense opposition to the phrase Happy Holidays over Merry Christmas.

For the last few years, accusations have been flying around (some legit and others fabricated) about how Christmas is under siege, slowly being banned from the public domain. There are claims of mega-chain store employees forbidden to wish their customers a Merry Christmas, signs displaying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, lyrics to Christmas songs changed, etc. etc. While its completely ridiculous to "ban" people from saying the phrase 'Merry Christmas,' I find the uproar, protests, and boycotts from evangelicals to"enforce" Christmas even more absurd, shallow, and frankly, extremely illogical. Focus on The Family has done several shows about the "attack on Christmas" and how good Christians can "fight" it. The American Family Association is leading boycotts on stores that say happy holidays. Other religious right groups are encouraging boycotts, protests, congressional intervention, and letter writing campaigns.

First off, I don't really believe that Christmas, as we know it, is going anywhere, based solely on the money-making aspect of the holiday. Secondly, the move to the more vague, inclusive 'Happy Holidays' greeting adopted by many stores is not so much of an attempt to ban Christmas, but an attempt acknowledge the other holidays celebrated during the same season...(Chanakuh, Kwanzaa, and New Years).

However, pretend for a moment that there is a diabolical plot among politicians, the ACLU, secularists, the liberal media, and businesses to "do away" with Christmas (there ARE people who despise any public recognition of anything even remotely religious). Pretend businesses would actually be stupid enough to take down the biggest money making holiday of the year and all "traditional" Christmas decorations, songs, and rituals were removed from the public square. If this happened, Christians should be thrilled! That's right, THRILLED.

Aren't these the same groups that we have been accusing of hijacking Christmas FOR DECADES, reducing the birth of Jesus to a materialistic, decadent, consumer-driven, self-indulgent extravaganza about who can buy the most crap, put up the biggest tree, string the brightest lights, and display the tackiest plastic reindeer, Santas, and snowmen on their lawns? Haven't evangelicals resented the fact that Christmas has been secularized, commercialized, and focused on a chimney-invading fat guy in red suit, instead of the celebration of our Lord's birth? Didn't we gaze condescendingly at all those 'heathens' that took their kids to see Santa at the mall, who were obviously deceived by those money-hungry businesses trying to make a quick buck off the birth of our Savior? Christians should be ecstatic to reclaim this beloved holiday, make it ours again, transform it into a season that truly inspires the celebration and honor of our Lord. And how did Jesus say those who love him would truly honor him? They would keep his commands. And what were those commands? Loving God and our neighbor (enemies included) with everything within us. So, does it honor Jesus when Christians force THE WORLD to adhere to God's standards? Or, even worse, OUR STANDARDS in the name of God? Or trying to conform the world to an outward appearance that is more convenient FOR US, instead of demonstrating concern for the heart? Does it honor Jesus when we selfishly demand and economically blackmail secular businesses to recognize our precious holiday and meet our needs? Is our faith so fragile, that we need THE WORLD to validate it by continuing to water-down a Holiday they don't fully understand, nor should be expected to understand?

It's not a biblical mandate to celebrate Christmas, but it is a mandate to honor Jesus by living out his teachings. We could flex our religious muscle and force worldly institutions to half-heartedly recognize Christmas to appease us, make our lives easier and more pleasant, but would our victory for "Christmas" be a loss in honoring Christ? Would our victory be just one more terrible witness to the world, where we exert domination over the world through force, condemnation, and judgment, instead of reaching the world with sacrificial love, service, kindness, and compassion?

Why are we so intent on cleaning up the world's outward image, instead of reaching hearts? Are we like the Pharisees, who care only to clean the outside of the cup, while leaving the inside filthy and empty? What difference does it make if the secular leaders and businesses recognize Christmas in name to appease us, only to remain inwardly unaffected, confused, and resentful? These outcries to "restore" Christmas will only ensure that we Christians can stroll through the mall hearing OUR favorite Christmas music, enjoying OUR favorite man-made traditions, and hear a "Merry Christmas" from a minimum-wage-working cashier after overpaying for stuff we don't really can hear the "well done, my good and faithful servant" now!

Ah...but there is hope! What if we took the teaching of Jesus seriously? What if we saw this "ban of Christmas" as a unique opportunity. What if we overcame evil with good? Turned the other cheek? Loved those who hate us? Blessed those who curse us? Lose our secure, comfortable lives, so we might save it in the end?
Wouldn't it come as a baffling shock if Christians everywhere put down their picket signs, ceased the boycotts, dropped the Christmas lawsuits, and instead, showered politicians, business owners, and ACLU workers that show disdain for Christmas/Christians with thoughtful gifts, invitations to OUR Christmas celebrations, letters of prayers, (not condemning ones), asking nothing in return? What if Christians took all the money they are spending on lawsuits over Christmas and used it to serve the poor, the marginalized, and sick? What if we stopped courting the approval and recognition of the rich and powerful and focused on the least, the lost, and the last of this world? What if Christians recreated our Christmas celebrations and invited the world, instead of demanding the world get it right and include us? How much harder would it be for the world to label us as judgmental, condemning, intolerant, superficial hypocrites, if we actually lead by example, by service, by radical, ridiculous, unconditional love? See, Jesus is no naive optimist, He is a genius! By responding to cruelty with kindness, insult with blessing, neglect with service, rejection with embrace, it proves our opponent wrong. It shows their true colors. It halts their accusations. It could inspire a rethinking of their assumptions. It makes us a people separated unto God. It clears the way for reconciliation, healing, renewal, forgiveness, and transformation. When we take the bait and repay evil with evil, eye for eye, dollar for dollar, insult for insult, when we demand our DUE, we not only lose in the end, but we become our "enemy," for we are guilty of the same offenses, tactics, and attitudes. For what good is it if we only show love to those who love us? Do not even non-christians do this? Aren't we called to a higher standard?
So let's do what Jesus would have us do on the day we've chosen to celebrate his birth: lose our holiday to save it after all. Lose the war on Christmas to truly win it!