I have struggled for a few weeks now on whether or not to write this blog, because it is controversial. But, I feel like it is something God has laid on my heart, especially after the sermon at my church yesterday morning spoke a similar message to the one in my heart. If it seems offensive, please accept my apology in advance, because that is not my intention.
Christmas is one of my favorite times. I love the carols, Christmas lights, and burst of energy I experience during the last few months of the calendar year. I am essentially the opposite of the Grinch in the Jim Carrey film version. Mistletoe is one of the only Christmas traditions that he likes. I love almost every tradition besides one: the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” debate. “But that’s not a tradition,” you may say. Google “Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays” and see how many hits you get in which people are verbally slaughtering each other over which two phrase greeting they want to use in November and December. Count the number of political arguments that arise because x person or party wants to say “holiday lights” or “holiday tree.” We have chosen sides, we have posted Facebook statuses, and we have become so accustomed to this culture of marginalization that it might as well get packed in our garage with the rest of the Christmas traditions. After all, an action only becomes a tradition after it has been perpetuated.
Like I said previously, I love Christmas as much as anyone (and probably more than some), and I love Jesus even more than Christmas itself. But, I have never seen the big deal about saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I say them both, and no one has ever prohibited me from saying “Merry Christmas,” even though it seems that many people in the U.S. are convinced that Christians are not allowed to use this phrase, thus constituting an act of persecution by society. I’m sure that Stephen, Paul, and John the Baptist wish this was the only persecution they suffered, but I digress.
Since the winter months are important to people of many different faiths, I try to accept any holiday cheer as a gift from someone, even if that person is not like me. After I say “thank you,” and say Merry Christmas I’m return, I might even ask people about their own holiday traditions and seek the opportunity to expand my horizons; I never see these remarks as an insult to my faith. However, people’s lack of gratitude for a kind word is not the only reason I have the inclination to punch my computer screen every time I see an argument about holiday verbiage arise online (or anywhere else for that matter).
One of the reasons this debate and the metaphorical bloodshed that goes along with it vex me so is that I truly believe God does not care about which greeting we use during the advent season. In fact, I can picture God face palming when He sees one of us get into a knock-down-drag-out about something so superficial. Our actions in times like these only serve to make us modern day Pharisees, the uber religious and legalistic people that Jesus tried to avoid. Romans 6:14 assures us that these legalistic views are not valid: For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Lashing out at non-believers instead of giving them grace is one of the most un-Christlike things we can do, and we always do more harm than good. If we really want to spread the love of God in our communities during this season, there are many more effective ways to do so, like inviting someone without a home to our family gatherings, donating to organizations like Samaritans Purse, or bringing joy to people in assisted living facilities that could really use some uplifting. Any of these actions would make our time spent for God more useful, and I think He would appreciate them more.
The second reason that I see no need for this debate is the realization that God does not need us to go to war for Him. I know it is human nature to be on the defensive 24/7, but that is not what God asks of us. Think about it; God is surrounded by beings like Michael, the archangel, so why would He need someone scrawny like me willing to pick up earthly weapons and defend Him? The truth is, when we engage in debates and arguments with non-believers such as the one about the verbiage of the Christmas season, we are not actually seeking to validate God (which He also does not need us to do); we are seeking to validate ourselves. We are simply trying to “win” an argument, and that could possibly be the most un-Christlike thing we could ever do. When we do this, we are making religion an idol and straying away from the essence of Christianity.
The sermon that gave me the strength to write this blog taught me something I never knew about the society into which Jesus was born, and thus taught me more about God Himself. Most people who are familiar with Christianity are aware that an angel visited a group of shepherds in the field to announce the birth of the Messiah: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” I was completely oblivious that shepherds were lowly members of society with almost no voice in important affairs. If God ever needed validation, wouldn’t He have revealed the birth of Jesus to someone in a greater societal rank? Even though, like I stated previously, I believe that cramming the phrase Merry Christmas down someone’s throat is for our own self-gain rather than a service for God, God did not need us to validate Him then, and He does not need us to validate Him now, 2,000 years later.
The shepherds being the first to hear of Jesus’s birth was a precursor for things to come; Jesus was a man who forsook the company of religious bigots to fellowship with tax collectors, adulterers, and many other kinds of sinners. Keeping that in mind, if Jesus were to manifest in human form while Christians were beating up non-believers in the name of Christmas, the time set aside to commemorate His birth, whose side do you think that Jesus would take? With whom would He have lunch with after the bloodshed had commenced? I would venture to say that He would seek company with the non-believer and try to do some damage control.
This year, may we strive to illuminate what matters this season: the birth of Christ, His grace, the hope for the world. May we live love instead of preach hate, and may we spend our time doing actions that will further His kingdom rather than participating in shallow debates. May we treat all people like human beings, and try to see them the way that God sees them.