Pastor Robert Eckert
Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church
10295 Myers Lake Ave., Rockford
“Whoever is not with me is against me . . . .” (from Matthew 12:30).
“Whoever is not against us is for us” (from Mark 9:39-40).
I’ve been hearing lately that a War on Christmas has been declared and I’m having trouble picking sides. The battlefields include public speech, government property, and retail businesses. One person’s “Merry Christmas” is another person’s “Season’s Greetings” and either will offend someone. An evergreen tree decorated with ornaments and lights by any other name, be it Christmas Tree or Holiday Tree, apparently doesn’t smell as sweet. And somehow a sacrilege is committed if Meijer starts selling candy canes and tinsel before Thanksgiving. (My favorite lament about early starts on holiday merchandising—ok, Christmas merchandising—was someone who said: “Now they’re advertising for Christmas before Halloween! Of course, I had all my shopping finished last spring.”)
The time of year that begins with Halloween, continues on to Thanksgiving, through Christmas and ends when the final BCS bowl game has been played is a complicated, contradictory mix of cultural, religious, commercial, and family traditions that finds more and more of us vying to have the final word on the “true meaning” of it all—especially the true meaning of Christmas.
We’re all familiar with the contenders for the title and how they tend to fall into either secular or sacred categories. There’s the spirit of giving, good cheer, and celebration of innocence side. Think of Francis Church telling Virginia that there is a Santa Clause in 1897: “Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!…There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”
And there’s the “Jesus is the reason for the season,” unto-you-a-savior-is-born, God-so-loved-the world side. This one has a couple subcategories. It can be as fully festive as any secular observance as long as celebrants remember that the party is for Jesus. Or it can point to a more somber aspect. Peter Roff, for example, of U.S. News and World Report writes, “It’s true that the remembrance of the Savior’s birth is a time for rejoicing, but his coming into the world is far less important than the how and the why He left it.” Remember the nasty business of the crucifixion?
Far be it from me to attempt settle the question of the true meaning of Christmas. It’s entirely up to us, collectively and individually, after all we invented it. My only question is what’s all the fuss? If I never even mention the name of Jesus but work extra hours to buy a present for someone I love, is God displeased? If I totally abstain from anything that can be remotely described as commercial for the entire month of December and focus instead on prayers of thanksgiving for Jesus, have I gained special favor in God’s eyes? If I give a gift anonymously; if I celebrate unabashedly; if I send a letter to an old friend, invite my family for dinner, or quietly meditate at a candlelight service … if there is anything joyful, hopeful, generous, or grateful in whatever any of us does during the holiday season, can it be other than good and true and godly?
I was always happy when my children played nice together. As far as I can tell, that’s what we do from Halloween to New Year’s, for a little while we play nice together. Christmas is being co-opted by a secular culture? I wish! If only its joy and generosity really did infuse our increasingly cynical world. Christmas starts too early? It doesn’t come soon or often enough.
Peter Roff goes on to say, “If you believe Jesus is the light and the hope of the world, having someone wish you ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ doesn’t change that.”
If there’s a war on Christmas, let’s all take a deep breath and give peace a chance.