The War on Christmas

December 24th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

war on christmas

If you get to the heart of it, the Christmas event is about rescue. Most of the time we don’t feel we need to be rescued. Many of us have never experienced the need for rescue. And certainly the spiritual aspects of the Christmas event are overshadowed by cultural expectations. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has ever felt a need to be rescued from “Xmas”.

What do I mean when I refer to “the Christmas event?” Yes, it is the familiar story of the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem. But that story is the climax of a larger one: the story of humanity’s waywardness and rebellion and God’s barely fathomable mercy. I say “barely” because if you have kids you know that you are willing to forgive much. The Christmas event is the turning point in the movie. Do you remember the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, at the very end, when the last petal fell off the rose and there was no longer any hope, and all of the kids in the theater were crying, and suddenly – a miracle! Everything came back to life. Better than ever. It’s that.

Since I have come to have a sense of the historical and theological significance of Christmas I have been somewhat of a Scrooge. Because I can see very clearly that whatever it is we are doing between Thanksgiving and Christmas has little if anything to do with the Christ event. At its finest point, where it is most accurate, it is a generic sense that we ought to be good to each other. But we don’t need the sacrifice of the creator of the universe to tell us that. We already know that.

In the end, Christmas is not about saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Happy Festivus or about red coffee cups with or without snowflakes or holiday parades or a Charlie Brown Christmas performed with or without the scripture passage from Luke. Anyone who is disturbed by anyone else’s celebration or non-celebration has completely missed the point. Christmas is about rescue.

Most of the time we don’t feel we need to be rescued. Yet we are beset by the worst of human depravity. It is not only exterior threats but the evil we carry within, that we make manifest in our responses to our fears. We are afraid.

One of the most prominent criticisms of Christianity that I have encountered is exclusivity. Christians are quite certain that Christ is the only way. This offends modern sensibilities because in a pluralistic democracy we ought to be able to choose our own way. The celebration of rugged individualism has brought us to the point that we have our own radio stations, our own TV stations, our own Social Media presence, our own everything. Personalized just for me. And so we sit isolated in our virtual worlds hoping desperately someone will notice us by clicking the “Like” button. This is hell. Or we respond to the constant onslaught of terror and temptation by giving in to our basest instincts. And we discover that this, too, is hell. Our abyss may look different from others’ and from our forebears’ but the experience of separation and fear is the same.

The significance of the Christmas event is that God himself provided a way out of hell. The moral of the Christmas story is not “believe in Jesus or go to hell”, it is “you are already in hell, let me show you the way out.” If you don’t think you need to be rescued from hell, Christmas in the Christian sense is meaningless.

The heart of the Christmas story is that God suffered spiritual self-immolation to rescue people who would beat him and mock him and nail him to two pieces of wood and spit on him until he died. And having suffered that, because he is God, he rose from death and offered his life to those same people (us). Like Jesus, if we are to rise we must die. And like Jesus, when we rise, we rise to the life of Christ. When we are rescued, we become the rescuer. That is why the sign of those who are rescued by the Christ event is self-sacrificing love.

One way that love can be manifest is in letting people celebrate (or not) as they see fit. There isn’t any war on Christmas. If there is a war, it is in your own heart. No one can separate you from the love of Christ. I have a friend who once remarked, “Other people really enjoy Christmas. Why don’t we let them?” Amen.

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