And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people! (Except anyone who is ashamed to call themselves a Christian.) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord! (And if anyone puts up a tree in December and calls it anything other than a Christmas tree, they are sellouts in the war on religion.) And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (and he is sick of you people who write ‘Xmas’ instead of ‘Christmas.’)”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Which doesn’t include you if you even think of uttering the phrase ‘Happy Holidays!’)” (Luke 2:8-14, RSAV)
By now, we’ve probably all seen those Facebook posts demanding that we “keep Christ in Christmas.” Between those messages and the relentless TV ads trying to convince us that buying an Audi this December somehow constitutes simplified living, it’s no wonder to me that people commit suicide this time of year.
Here’s the version I’ve seen most often, with varying degrees of pique thrown in for flavor: “I’m inviting all my Facebook family and friends to join me in returning to the traditional greeting of “MERRY CHRISTMAS” instead of the politically correct “Happy Holidays”!! If you agree with me, please re-post this message…..MERRY CHRISTMAS! We need Christ back into (sic) our lives.”
Maybe I’m missing something – and I’d be the last person to say I have the market cornered on good solid Christian doctrine – but I really don’t believe that expressing inclusive holiday greetings minimizes the presence of Christ in my own life in any way. And approaching Christmas with more belligerence than we already see in checkout lines and parking lots constitutes, at the very least, a very dubious witness to the birth of the Prince of Peace.
Nowhere in my Bible is there anything along the lines of, “Sayeth not thou Happy Holidays lest ye be cast with sinners into the outer darkness where there is wailing, gnashing of teeth, and justifiable use of pepper spray in pursuit of Christmas bargains.” So, how is it that approaching one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar which honors perhaps the smallest, humblest single event in ANY deity’s life, so many of us mount our high horses to defend a holiday that doesn’t appear, at least to me, to be in any danger of going extinct? Especially not in a country where this high holy day lies alongside the single biggest consumer bacchanalia of the year.
It’s challenging to preserve the sanctity of a holy day during a season that stands in aggressive opposition to Christ-like values, but for those of us who believe it’s important to do so, the challenge is for us, not for the world at large. It is not the world’s responsibility to keep Christ in Christmas – it is our responsibility. Let’s try to remember this when a non-Christian coworker graciously wishes us happy holidays or when we’re stuck in holiday traffic.
And while we’re keeping Christ in Christmas, I think it’s worth keeping the other nativity characters in Christmas, too:
- You think Mary at eight months pregnant had the energy or inclination that December to bake twelve dozen cookies, attend parties all over town, and shop like demons were driving her over a cliff? The four weeks of Advent are Mary’s holiday and it’s meant to be a season of deliberate quiet and reflective anticipation of the incarnation of God at the feet of humanity, not the appearance of Santa at the foot of the chimney.
- One of the most profound acts of moral courage anywhere in the Bible appears in the second verse of Christ’s life story.* In that verse, Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant – and not by him. At that time and in that place, he could have demanded her death as an adulteress. But not only does he not demand his legal rights, he makes plans to protect her from public humiliation. Joseph could have chosen to do the right thing under the law – we are told that he was a just man. But he does the kind thing because he is also a good man. No wonder he was chosen to be God’s stepparent.
- The magi and the shepherds probably have deep moral significance in the nativity story, but I confess I’ve never given it much thought. It’s enough for me that they’re the main players in two of my favorite Christmas carols, “We Three Kings,” and “Rise Up, Shepherds.”**
- The heavenly host, whom I misquoted at the beginning of this blog, exemplifies the very joy of heaven at the human incarnation of God and the coming reconciliation between mortal flesh and the divine. Joyful reconciliation – THAT’S the meaning of Christmas.
And lest we forget, Herod was also a major player in the nativity story.
Herod, my friends, is not the arch-villain of Christmas because he wasn’t a believer. Herod is the villain because he did believe. He believed, wholeheartedly, that Christ was a threat to his own power and position. So, Herod annihilated an entire generation of children in his utter conviction that his position was the only thing in the world worth preserving.
Our Christianity is not the only thing in the world worth preserving. But Christ is something about Christmas that’s worth preserving. Let’s do our best to be like him. And God bless us every one.
* Okay, technically, the begats are the beginning of Christ’s biography, but honestly. Who reads the begats? I’m a freakin’ seminarian and I’m not ashamed to say that I run shrieking from the room whenever I see a begat.
** Just so you don’t think I’m a total Scrooge, here’s a quick shout out to three of my other favorites: “Mister Grinch,” “The Chipmunk Song,” and “Jingle Bells” by The Singing Dogs. Because Christmas is a religious holiday at my house and religion is way too important to be taken entirely seriously.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2011