One of the traditions of the Christmas season is the annual rant against the secularization of Christmas.
It’s often delivered from the pulpit and routinely gets a loud “Amen” from many church members.
It’s a tradition I’ve decided to discontinue, for two reasons. First, ironically and counter-intuitively, it does a better job of destroying the Christmas spirit than the wrong it attempts to correct. Christianity with attitude is in vogue these days. Christianity with a scowl. Christians get almost snarly in their demands to “keep Christ in Christmas.”
Here we are in the most wonderful time of the year when the love and grace of Jesus Christ is awesome and overwhelming, when the cry of “Peace on earth, good will to all people” echoes from the night sky, and yet even in this environment, people manage to turn that peaceful Bethlehem stable into a battlefield.
We go to war over whether a faceless corporation says, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” We fight over what can be displayed on government property, over how public schools should celebrate religious holidays, over when services should be, etc.
The march of Onward Christian Soldiers doesn’t harmonize very well with the angel chorus of peace and good will.
It reminds me of an old Pogo cartoon where two of the characters independently decided to bring joy to a hard-luck family by dressing up as Santa Claus and bringing gifts. They happened to arrive on the roof top of the house at the same time. Each is determined to be the one who brings the toys, and they engage in a vicious fight all the way down the chimney, one of them screaming, “When I dispense brotherly love and peace on earth, no doggone bear is gonna get in my way! “
My second reason is that (this sounds like blasphemy) Christmas is a secular holiday. Santa and elves and Rudolph, and Christmas stockings and decorative lights, and Christmas cookies, and eggnog, and office parties and mistletoe and deep discounts on flat-screen TVs, a lot of other stuff have nothing to do with religion.
They are fun, however. They enrich lives and bring people together. What is wrong with that? Sure, there are things about the secular Christmas that are appalling and drive you nuts, like the insane materialism. But those are the same things about secular society that are appalling and drive you nuts all year. Why choose the Christmas season, of all times, to blast them? What does railing against them do for the Christian church?
There is a separate holiday; a religious holiday of Christmas in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We do this through the season of Advent, in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. We do this by focusing on the Christmas story from Luke and the astounding miracle of Immanuel — God coming to us in this world. We hold special services and prepare special music. We try especially hard to imitate the spirit of Jesus in our actions, particularly our charity and our wishes for good will among all people.
We do the world no good when we confuse the two festivals. I think it’s far more productive and a better reflection of the Christmas spirit to spend my time in the pulpit proclaiming and joyfully celebrating the religious holiday — the birth of Jesus and its implications for all humankind.
Meanwhile, we’re hosting a party for the church at our house this year, we’re getting the house and the yard decorated for the kids to enjoy when they arrive home, and yes, I’m going to enjoy that mug of eggnog.
Happy Holidays, everyone. And may the joy and peace of Christmas light your lives and bring you closer to the risen Christ.