Years ago at Christmastime I was shopping at a large chain store which shall remain nameless. This massive blue-themed superstore was all decked out for the holidays, and it was slammed with people getting their last-minute shopping in.
Image via Pixabay
As I was standing in line at the cash, I heard a phrase being repeated with some significant intensity.
It was coming from the cashier. To every customer, she was looking them in the eye, definitely not smiling, but nonetheless very intently saying: “Merry Christmas.”
It was not overly joyful, and it was not overly warm. This lady was making a point.
And I figured I knew what that point was. Most major retail chains don’t say “Merry Christmas,” they say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” or something like that, wanting to respect their many varied customers who are of different faiths and beliefs and who celebrate different holidays.
So every customer came to this cashier and did their transaction, and as they left, they were treated to a stranger staring them in eye without joy, and hearing her clear call: “Merry Christmas.”
As I arrived at my turn, a manager came out.
“I’m really sorry,” she said quietly to the cashier, “but again, we need you to refrain from highlighting specific holidays. Please just say ‘Happy Holidays,’ or ‘Seasons Greetings.’ It’s not personal, you are welcome to your beliefs, it’s just our corporate policy. We didn’t create it, but we do need to follow it.”
The manager left, and the cashier glared at me. As she rung up my items, she grumbled under her breath about a “free country” and something about people “hating Jesus” and how her “rights were being taken away” and how she wanted to “celebrate her faith.”
In the moment, I was stuck – I honestly couldn’t think of what to say in response. I paid for my purchases and left, but not before she handed me my change, stared into my eyes with anger and purpose, and cheerlessly said: “MERRY CHRISTMAS.”
I don’t know what happened to that lady. I hope she wasn’t disciplined or fired, and I hope she found some peace that holiday season.
But honestly, I also hope she turned away from the path she was on, because I don’t think she was making Jesus or Christians or Christmas look awesome.
And while the argument could be made that she was being bold for her faith, the question would be, “To what end?” I think all the customers she talked to were very uncomfortable, and not because she was talking Jesus, who certainly can make people uncomfortable sometimes. Had she done things more warmly or more sincerely, perhaps her actions would have made a positive impact.
But she wasn’t doing that – she was making the whole thing about her right to celebrate Jesus. The actual celebration of Jesus was missing.
Every year around this time, there is a certain group of well-meaning Christians who start talking about “The War on Christmas.” The enemy in this War is usually liberals, or atheists, or secular governments. The battleground is public spaces, airwaves, schools, stores, the political arena, etc., where these Christians want to see Jesus loudly proclaimed as “The Reason for the Season.”
Some extreme versions of this even call for boycotts, avoiding certain businesses and corporations who say, “Happy Holidays,” and refusing to spend any money there until they change their policy over to “Merry Christmas.”
Yes, holding a financial gun to someone’s head until they are forced against their will to acknowledge our Saviour.
You know, just like Jesus taught us.
And I know the motivation is sincere – these people are serious about their faith, and they are worried about Jesus being pushed out of the culture, and they feel that it is their job to make sure that He stays front and centre.
That, on its own, is not a bad thing at all.
The problem is less with the motivation and more with the tactics. Calling this a “War on Christmas” seems silly when literally the entire North American culture acknowledges the holiday, the overwhelming majority celebrate it in one way or another, and the whole culture certainly gets a legal statutory holiday every December 25, unlike with Jewish or Muslim or any other holidays. Christmas itself is doing just fine.
As well, Christ compels us to treat others the way we would wish to be treated (Mt 7.12). If I lived as a Christian in a Muslim nation and did not celebrate Ramadan, I of course would not take any issue with that nation celebrating Ramadan, as I would be in the minority. But still, I would be very appreciative if the Muslims were respectful of me, giving me space, not getting angry over my lack of celebrating their holiday, and not shoving it down my throat. Since that is how I would wish to be treated, in following the teaching of Christ I should easily treat others with this same respect.
Also, as a minor sidebar, Christians are supposed to love and support the Jewish people (Rom 11), and the Jewish people also have their own holy season of Hanukkah happening around this time of year, so there are literally other “Holidays” that we should be “Happy” about, or at least respectful towards, other than just Christmas.
And finally, while we of course would applaud the sharing of Jesus and the Gospel everywhere, this is never a thing that we can force people to acknowledge against their will. We know and trust that Jesus is indeed “The Reason for the Season,” and this is something that Christ-followers believe, and this is something that Christ-followers acknowledge, and this is something that Christ-followers proclaim.
Ultimately, it is simply not the wordly government’s job to proclaim the birth of Christ. It is not any corporation’s job. It’s not the public school’s job. It’s not the secular world’s job.
That job belongs to the Church, and to the Church alone. The true meaning of Christmas is our responsibility to share.
If we’re getting angry with the government or a store or our kids’ public school because they aren’t being “Jesus-y” enough at Christmas time, the question is, “Why would they be?” I’m not personally promoting Ramadan, because I don’t believe in it. If Muslims got angry with me over that, I would be confused as to why. Does anyone promote beliefs that they don’t believe in?
We win The War on Christmas by: a) not calling it a “war”; b) not getting mad at non-believers who act like non-believers; and c) proclaiming loud and clear that we, the Christ-followers, believe that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, and why we believe that is so.
In so doing, we will not waste our energy getting angry with secular people who have not yet encountered Jesus or accepted Him. We will use our energy to celebrate His birth and share that hope with the world. We will put our time, words, and mental efforts in the right direction, joining with the witness of shepherds and angels and wise men in declaring the Christ child has been born in Bethlehem, and that He is the hope of the world.
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