Saturday, December 17, 2005

War on Christmas?!

This is my contribution to the hot air that's being generated by the current controversy over Christmas. It will be published in our local newspaper next week.

Mike and I have a habit of watching some of the cable news shows that are on in the evenings. At 7:00 most nights, we switch back and forth between Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News. (We like Keith better, because he tends to treat most of the news with a little humor—and people don’t come on his show to scream at one another and be browbeaten by the host.) Lately one hot topic, particularly on O’Reilly, has been the “War on Christmas” that secular forces in our culture are supposedly waging.

O’Reilly told his TV and radio audiences recently that there were two school districts in the U.S.—one in Texas and one in Michigan—where the students have been barred from wearing red and green because those are Christmas colors. The Texas district, it was reported a few nights later by Keith Olbermann (who, admittedly, has a bit of a feud going with O’Reilly year-round), had to call parents to let them know that it isn’t true! Someone, somewhere, made it up. The superintendent of the Michigan district, sitting (as Olbermann described him) in his office beside his Christmas tree, in his red shirt and Santa Claus tie, has demanded a retraction from O’Reilly. It’ll be interesting whether he gets it.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m having a hard time feeling that I’m being persecuted because I’m a Christian and celebrate Christmas, because some individuals and businesses are saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” because some misguided folks are calling it a “holiday tree” rather than a “Christmas tree.” There are other places in the world where people are killed or jailed or tortured because they are Christian—it seems almost insulting to those Christians for us to spend a bunch of time being upset because someone in a store somewhere wished us “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Our adult Sunday school class has been studying the Gospel according to John this fall. Last week we arrived at chapter 13, in which Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, and then gives them a new commandment: “Love one another.” Then he elaborates a little bit: “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Nowhere does Jesus ever say, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you yell at one another about trivial matters and spend the season when you’re supposed to be celebrating my birth walking around with your nose out of joint because somebody didn’t wish you a Merry Christmas.”

The fact of the matter is that even those of us who are Christian celebrate more than just one holiday during this season. The holiday season begins with Thanksgiving, and continues on through Christmas and New Year’s Day. Why can’t we simply assume the person saying “Happy Holidays” is being extravagant and wishing us Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year all at once, instead of getting all exercised because someone didn’t say the word Christmas? How is it that Jesus says people are supposed to recognize his disciples? By the chips on their shoulders, or the love in their actions?

Being a follower of Jesus means that if we’re going to get angry about something, we should be angry about the things that make him angry: ungrace and self-righteousness on the part of religious folks, sickness and death too often caused by poverty and the indifference of far too many people to that poverty and disease, and the continuing tendency even of those who claim to be his followers to place other things before our commitment to him—like greed, materialism and phony controversies about a “war on Christmas.”

Let’s let folks know we are disciples of Jesus Christ for the right reasons during this holiday season!