Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Merry Holidays? Happy Christmas?

We all get "those emails" - you know, the ones where you are instructed to either pass the message on or forward it to five friends or whatever. (I've sounded off on this before here on the blog - go back & read my post Forward, Christian Soldiers.)

And I got another one today.
I will be making a conscious effort to wish everyone a Merry Christmas this year ...

My way of saying that I am celebrating the birth Of Jesus Christ.

So I am asking my email buddies, if you agree with me, to please do the same.

And if you'll pass this on to your email buddies, and so on...

maybe we can prevent one more American tradition from being lost in the sea of "Political Correctness".
You may sit now, as I did, for a moment of stunned silence at this bit of ridiculousness.

OK, silent time is over.

Elton Trueblood once said:
“There are those places in ministry and theology that you must draw the line and fight and die; just don’t draw the lines in stupid places!”
Here are three reasons that the above email (and the philosophy behind it) are clearly one of those stupid places:
  1. Please, please, please... any time you are tempted to use the phrases "celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ" and "American tradition" in the same sentence, you should use some of that cutesy holiday-themed scotch tape to shut your mouth. The celebration of Christ's birth is NOT an American tradition - it's a Christian tradition... and being an American doesn't make you a Christian, any more than walking into McDonald's makes you a hamburger. (Credit to Keith Green for that analogy.)
  2. "Happy Holidays" is not a frontal attack on Christianity... it's an attempt by people (and businesses) to be inoffensive in a season in which there are two major religious holidays (one Christian & one Jewish), one cultural holiday (Kwanzaa), and New Years Day as well.
  3. A methodological problem: email forwards tend to go to people who already agree with you - meaning you've created feedback loop of people who become belligerent about the way they wish people "Merry Christmas" because they're sure that everyone who doesn't do the same is opposed to all that is good & right in the world.

I'm not telling you to stop saying "Merry Christmas" - in the words of Reggie McNeal, "Don't hear what I'm not saying." Go right ahead & wish people "Merry Christmas"... you are celebrating the birth of Christ in this season. The sincere hope of those who are followers of Jesus is that more people would discover that for themselves.

However, I do want to give you a few tips in how to fulfill the command of Scripture while you're spreading holiday cheer:

  1. Stop correcting salespeople who are obligated - in order to keep their job! - to say "Happy Holidays". It's not their fault. And arguing with them or chiding them is not going to bring anyone closer to embracing the true meaning of Christmas.
  2. When you say "Merry Christmas", make sure you sound like Bob Crachit rather than Ebenezer Scrooge. Seriously, there are some folks out there who spit the traditional greeting at people like it's a bullet aimed straight at their pitiful heathen hearts. If you can't wish someone "Merry Christmas" with a heart filled with Christlike love, then don't say anything at all.
  3. Remember that the (gosh, I hate this cliche) "reason for the season" is Jesus Christ... not the preservation of tradition or winning the "War on Christmas". The Incarnation is about God clearly & completely expressing His love for us - Immanuel means "God with us". When we are just working to accomplish a cultural agenda, we are communicating the exact opposite message... what we're saying is "if you don't accept my particular way of celebration & the theological beliefs that go along with it, I'll simply stuff it down your throat."

And, since I'm a pastor, a Scripture to prove my point:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossian 4:5-6, NIV)

BTW, Merry Christmas!


ooogene said...

This is an excellent post. Thanks.

Jonathan Degann said...

We happened to have a discussion with our Rabbi this weekend around this topic.

As he brought up:

If Christians were more "Christian" and Jews were more "Jewish", much of the conflict (from the Jewish perspective, anyway) would not exist. Christmas would be acknowledged as a religious holiday, and it would not have its enormous influence in American culture and commerce - less so than, say, Easter. Similarly, Jews would not see any comparison between Christmas and Chanukah, which are entirely dissimilar holidays (and Jews would return Chanukah to its rightful place as a very minor holiday, way behind Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah, Sukkot, and even the more traditional "party time" holiday, Purim.

But we're not.

Christmas is "in your face" not so much for its religious significance, but because of its cultural significance, as a time of the year that Christian families, and many mixed and non-practicing families, really dig. It's a time of being with family. And none of us (on the outside) ought to disparage those values and the pleasure it gives.

So as a natural born Scrooge, I'm reminded to loosen up and wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Jonathan. Please copy & post it over on the Facebook link.

Mark Haberman said...

You're the best Mark. Merry Christmas from the agnostic son of a Jew and a Catholic.

Luke Holzmann said...

Happy Holidays! And may the word of Christ dwell in you richly throughout this season and the rest of the year [smile].


Anye said...

Well said as always, Mark!

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thanks for all the kind words... my only hope/prayer is that it does more than cause a bunch of us to say a hearty "amen".

Kim Beall said...

Excellent way of putting it! Just one little niggle on semantics: I - and most people who do it - don't say "Happy Holidays" in order to "avoid offending" anyone - I do it to be nice! I do it when I am not sure what the person to whom I am speaking is celebrating; to be inclusive of everyone. Also because when I was a kid, before "holidays" became a dirty word, we always said it to include both Christmas and New Years. (I always found the use of the word "Xmas" to be MUCH more obnoxious, and am glad we hardly ever see it anymore!)