Last week on the blog we talked about finding Christmas peace. But "peace" isn’t the only buzzword this time of year—“war” is a big one too. Just about the time the Christmas music starts to play, the “war on Christmas” hits the news. ‘Tis the season.
If I’m understanding everybody correctly, the “war on Christmas” is the perceived efforts on the parts of certain groups—atheists and other secularists, Muslims, whomever—to eliminate explicitly Christian forms of Christmas observance from the public sphere. For the most part this is done by complaining against government-sponsored Christmas events or decorations: a “holiday tree” is okay; a “Christmas tree” is bad, because it has the word “Christ” in it, that sort of thing. This, they would argue, amounts to government support of a particular religion, and it violates the rights of non-Christian Americans. Christian Americans respond to all of this in force, rallying the troops to protest generic ‘holiday’ celebrations, making their own, faith-centered observances bolder and more visible, and just generally ‘putting Christ back in Christmas’.
This is all on a lot of people’s minds this time of year, and there are earnest concerns on both sides of the battle. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like much of the attention this 'war' is getting in the news is very helpful, or very Christian. So I thought I'd offer a few, quick tips of my own for people who feel like they're caught in the line of fire in all of this.
- If you want to 'put Christ back in Christmas', you should start by going to church. I simply can’t think of a better way to center your Christmas celebrations around Jesus than gathering together with other members of Christ’s body and worshipping the one whose birth you’re supposed to be celebrating. A lot of people will drop in at church this time of year, but if you're really concerned about the Christian message of Christmas, maybe more than the bare minimum would be in order. Why not look at your church’s schedule, and go to every service you can? Normal Sunday services during December will probably be full of Christmas hymns and scripture readings and sermons about the coming of Jesus—that’ll be a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. There will probably be special services on Christmas Eve or Christmas day you can attend too. What better way to focus your family’s Christmas celebration on Jesus? There will be a live nativity or two in your area, maybe a Christmas cantata: go! Take your kids, take your spouse, go with some friends, just go, immerse yourself in the story and message of the season. And tell everyone you know! If you want to share the reason for the season with the world, the best way to do it isn’t by putting a Nativity scene in front of the local court house; it’s by telling friends and acquaintances what Christmas means to you and inviting them to come be a part of that with you.
- If you’re worried that the Christian celebration of Christmas is being taken over by secular, consumerist interests and being reduced to a generic time of ‘joy’ and ‘peace’, winter, and presents, then do something different in your household. Some people refuse to let Santa Claus or songs about him in their home; I guess that’s one way of doing it. I had something more drastic, and arguably more appropriate, in mind. Downplay Christmas gifts. If you want your children to see the meaning of Christmas and take that meaning with them to the Christmas celebrations of the next generation, don’t cloud their vision with presents. Keep it simple: just give one or two things. Don’t let the Walmart or Toys’R’Us catalogs that come in the mail rule your December. Gifts are fun, but if they’re distracting get rid of them. Or reorient them. There are plenty of ways you can give during Christmas time while also reflecting God’s purposes in sending Jesus. Watch for angel trees and a chance to give to people who don’t have the financial means to celebrate Christmas this year. Trade your Target catalog for a World Vision catalog: in it you’ll find the opportunity to give livestock, clean water, jackets, or school supplies (among other things!) to people around the planet who need them. Practices like that can change the way Christmas is celebrated in your life.
- If you're worried about the holiday losing it's holiness, one safeguard is don’t listen to anyone in the media, left-wing or right-wing, talking about this. Some conservative voices will just make you afraid of vague threats to the future of society and paint over-simplified targets on large, diverse groups of people who aren’t actually all out to get you. On the other hand, some liberal voices, like a Jon Stewart, will only make you callous to so many people’s honest concerns and cynical about their supposed naivety. None of this is good; none of this is Christian. If you really want to spend time concerning yourself with this issue, spend your time praying about it. Or maybe try to find someone who has a different view than you and be his friend, ask him what he thinks about it and why. Having differences and not going to war over them may offer him the best Christmas witness he’ll ever see.