I about dropped my teeth going into Wal-Mart this evening. The greeter, as she plastered my oldest daughter with a yellow smiley, exclaimed, "Merry Christmas!" I nearly shot back, "Are you serious?" However, reason and common sense got the better of me, and I began to rethink this whole "battle for Christmas" thing.
Really, where did it begin? I have a hard time believing that anyone really has it out for Christmas, no matter how much John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly think they need to save us from...whatever it is they think they need to save us from. Could it be more so about pandering after weak-kneed, sallow Christians and a blossoming bottom line rather than ensuring the cashiers and greeters cannot say "Merry Christmas?" I have my sincerest suspicions.
As you bring in the season, you also bring in the doom-sayers that writing X-mas instead of Christmas just strikes Jesus right out of Christmas and the indignation against nativity scenes on public property and that Frosty and Rudolph are more prudent than Joseph and Mary, are all mixed with collective vexation, anemic theology, and inaccurate history.
Given that I have just enough theological training to make me dangerous and inhospitable as this writer, I am going to lob a few grenades of my own into this battle. Mark Douglas, an ethicist at Columbia Theological Seminary, offered these reasons in an editorial. I offer a few comments and expansion upon it.
Has it ever occurred to anyone that this really is not the Christmas season??? The season we are in right now is Advent. It is that time of earnest expectation of the arrival of the Savior. It is a time of anticipation and quiet solitude, not the frenetic, chaotic, madness that normally characterizes the shopping centers. Christmas actually begins on Christmas Day and continues for the next twelve days (hence the song).
Why do we understand Christmas as coming before rather than after Christmas Day? Is it maybe because the retail industry wants us to believe that? That is where the money is. So last year when retailers turned to the less religious greetings and Target banned the Salvation Army, they took it in the gut, obliterating not just their pride, but also their bottom lines.
So, at least a return to "Merry Christmas" is not quite so obviously self-serving.
A second point: why is the use of "Happy Holidays" patently offensive to some? If Jesus is really the reason for the season, and Christ came not just to redeem human beings from their lost condition, but to redeem also all creation (Romans 8:19), which would include the setting apart of ourselves unto God (holiness) and the redemption of even time itself, would then redemption have something to do with making all that is redeemed holy? And, if the word holiday is simply a westernization of "holy day," is not every day then in the life of a Christian a "holy day?" So then "Happy Holidays" ought to be perfectly acceptable; Mark Douglas concludes, "'Happy Holidays' is always an appropriate greeting for those wishing to court Christians (or at least their wallets)."
Finally, if all these battles are to put Christ back into Christmas (Did He ever leave to begin with?), I sincerely doubt that manipulating retailers, decrying majority rule, or even giving Bill O'Reilly a fair hearing will do it. It will come much in the same way that it happened some 2,000 years ago; nothing less than a stupendous, fantastic miracle of an Almighty God. And when Jesus came the first time, it had nothing to do with retail frenzies, vacuous legalities, and innocuous media banter. He came preaching the Gospel to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and healing to the brokenhearted. That is what Advent should engender in us.
The season of Advent--a time of patient anticipation; not frenzied folly.