5 Cautions for Christians at Christmas
‘Tis the season for egg nog, Christmas music, those little pepperminty Kisses (which, btw are the greatest thing ever) and yes, some Christian insanity.
Let me just take this time to say that I love you. All of you. I love all my readers. I love Christians. I love the church. And that is why I changed the title of this blog from the merry, merry “Five Annoying Things about Christians and Christmas” to whatever it is I’ve decided by the end of this post. After all, this is the season of great merriment and joyage. I should probably be a little less contentious at some time in the year. I suppose the season of yule is as good a time as any for that sort of thing.
But don’t expect Mr. NiceGuy for a whole blog. That’s asking way too much from a candid Christian sojourner like myself. Because the total, transparent truth is, some Christians and churches annoy the heck out of me every December.
In fact, if you have the classic jingle about that green-footed, cuddly-as-a-cactus, Stink-Stank-Stunk, Mean One known as Mr. Grinch, you should probably play it as you read my 5 annoya–, I mean, cautions for Christians at Christmas.
Every year a group of us Christians go around talking about how pagan the Christmas tree is, and how we’re all going to Hell because we polluted the “real meaning of Christmas” (more on this later) by inadvertently worshipping some pagan god by virtue of a lighted plastic pine (or maybe even a real tree for some of you) we sat in our living rooms. Not to mention the “black magic” of Frosty the Snowman, with his coming to life and all. And we can’t forget the issues with Jolly Ol’ St. Nick and how he’s overshadowing Jesus as the hero of the Christmas story in our kids’ imaginations.
I think it’s all ridiculous.
At an average birthday party, how many things are done that have absolutely nothing to do with celebrating the fact that the person lived another year? Not the birthday gifts. Not the food at the party. Nor the birthday cake. Not the candy bags for the guests, or the “my-tee-dawg” bounce houses, or any number of a million other things that happen at birthday parties. Those are all celebration elements. Harmless festivities. I say, if you want to take the festive celebration out of the Christmas holiday, then go ahead. But don’t call me less a Christian because I choose to keep it in. For birthdays, for Christmas, or for anything else?
2. Gifts, Lots of ’em
Which brings me to the Holy Grail of Christmas Christian guilt-mongers. Presents. Every year we hear how “Christmas isn’t about the presents, it’s about…” (again, more on this later). But the truth is, Christmas is all about the presents. It is. No, yes… it is. Jesus was a gift to humanity (and not a cheap, second-rate gift either). Jesus was God’s best. A symbol representing the relationship he wants so desperately to have with us all. Yes, desperate. God cherished the possibility of relationship with us so much that he gave the only gift that could make it possible. His Son. In turn, we give gifts to those we love as a token of how much we cherish those relationships. Christmas is about relationships, and gifts are a way to sacrificially express/model what Jesus did in an eeny, teeny, tiny, small way. So Christians, get over it! Gifts are good! Say it loud and proud. “I’m a Christian, and I like gifts at Christmas time!” As a matter fact, it’s because of this that I think gifts given at Christmas time to those we love are more core to the holiday than those we give to people we don’t. But that’s me.
Which brings me to number three. This one is tough. Because, deep down, I’m all about charity and helping the poor and needy just as much as the next guy. Some Churches, with great intention, have pushed an idea that Christmas gift-giving should be sacrificed in the name of charity. I’m fine with that as long as you’re fine with that. The problem I have, and hear me, is the idea that if I choose not to give to a charity or special giving program, I am somehow less Christian. This is difficult to explain with so little space for it, so I’ll say it as straightforward as I can. Christians love to condescend. And we will take any good-intentioned, people-helping, awesome idea and sprinkle so much gold on it that if you decide not to go with it, you’re somehow “less.” There is no “less.” We have to stay away from making our ideas the “de facto” standard. Luckily, I go to a church that talks about “including” charitable work, rather than telling us that if we don’t give to the needy we’re missing the point of Christmas. Such a suggestion is taking it way too far. Besides, Christians don’t have the corner on charitable-giving… heck, we probably don’t even lead the category. (Perhaps that’s why we’re emphasizing it. How’s that for contradicting myself?)
Which brings me to the ever-revolving door of what Christmas “really means.” Each year the Christian community comes up with new rhetoric for what the real meaning of Christmas is. They’re all good things, but geez, how many “real meanings” are there? Okay, so you think I’m being silly. Maybe I am. But generosity, serving, Jesus’ earthly existence, grace, faith, family, happiness, joy… all of these things have been the “real meaning of Christmas.” This month, as you listen to people, preachers, parents, and others talk about Christmas, listen for how many times “… that’s the real meaning of Christmas” is said. I suppose my issue with it is that we elevate our ideas (I, too, am very guilty of this) to the highest level of importance in hopes that people will listen. Yet, in doing so, we probably misrepresent what the actual meaning of Christmas really is. Try it… ask a few people today what the meaning of Christmas is, and see how many different answers you get.
Okay, I admit that there is enough super-sensitivity around this subject to go around for all parties involved. It’s ridiculous that the word “Christmas” could be offensive to someone, as if it were a four-letter-word. But frankly, who cares whether Target or Walmart uses Christmas or Xmas? Just because a few (okay, nearly all) retailers are resulting to “Happy Holidays” does it mean that the world is going to forget about Jesus. Not likely. And that’s because the church, you and me, is still here. We’re still thriving. And if no store ever puts up the word Christmas, Jesus will still be central to the holiday because we will make it so. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I can’t think of anyone who was saved because they saw “Christ” in Christmas as they pummeled and trampled over each other on Black Friday.
And there you have it. See, that wasn’t that bad. It could have been way worse. Trust me.
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