Friday, December 9, 2011

The Semantics of the Season (aka. "The War on Christmas")

“The War on Christmas” has made quite a few headlines over the last few years. This battle, according to those doing the reporting, pits secular humanists against religious zealots in an all out fight over the semantics of the season. “Happy Holidays” vs “Merry Christmas” dominates the Christmas e-mail rounds among other things so that one almost feels like a heathen if one’s Christmas card happens to use the wrong phrase.

My two cents for what it’s worth. I understand that most good Christian folks in this fight have good intentions. They want people to know the true reason we as Christians celebrate Christmas. Nevertheless, the whole fight seems a little silly to me. If we are truly going to have a battle for Christmas shouldn’t it be a little more substantive than this? The words we use are important, but only if they reflect our true values and our actual actions. It’s one thing to say “Merry Christmas,” it’s a whole other thing to allow the Christ of Christmas to reign in one’s heart and home. 

The true battle for Christmas has to be in our own hearts and souls as we try to determine which call we will respond to, the call of Christ or the call of the shopping mall. I just don’t think that a fight over the words we use for a holiday greeting are going to bring a lot of folks to the true meaning of Christmas. Second, in light of the way Christ came, doesn’t the whole concept of a “battle” for Christmas seem a little odd? A battle is exactly what the Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting - a messiah who would come and wipe the Romans off the face of the earth. Instead, God sent a baby in a manger. Hardly, a leader ready for war. 

The late Madeleine L’Engle put it this way in her poem about Christ’s birth, “Like Every Newborn.”
               Girded for war, humility his mighty dress, 
               He moves into the battle wholly weaponless. 

If you’re really concerned about the state of Christmas this year, follow the example of Christ. Humble yourself, discard your possessions, and give of yourself to others without regard for how they will respond or what words they will say. Against all expectations, it worked for Jesus as his gospel took hold and changed the world. Such unlikely methods would probably work for us as well. 

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” – Philippians 2:5-8.

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