Monday, December 24, 2007
Thank God for "Happy Holidays"
Around this time of year, there's lots of talk among Christians and non-Christians alike about two little words: "Merry Christmas." The controversy, of course, is over who says it, who doesn't say it, and why.
Headlines over the past few years have accused and defended a number of corporations because of their use or disuse of the phrase. Wal-Mart, Macy's, Target, Sear's and many more have suffered the wrath of self-appointed Christmas warriors, determined to put the "Christ" back in Christmas through boycotts, news coverage, angry phone calls, and innumerable petitions.
I know that it matters little what I think amidst the nationwide media frenzy, but I would like to state and explain my position for the record: I don't want them to say, "Merry Christmas."
I am aware that we live in a culture that is not only increasingly non-Christian, but also anti-Christian. Although many of our founding mothers and fathers ascribed to some form of Christian faith, America is no longer a Christian nation. The US is a pluralist society, a reality that is exceedingly uncomfortable for Christians who are used to being in the majority and in positions of civic authority and power.
The rising pluralism has led to a rising push to accomodate the various faiths represented among us. There are both good and bad points in this accommodation, too many to spell out here. But, the important fact is that most Christians don't like it. We don't like it at all.
And so, among other things, we have the "battle for Christmas." It seems that the many proponents of the "war" to bring back Christmas view themselves as grass-roots saviors of the season. With enough phone calls and boycotts, they can pressure American corporations into not accommodating the pluralism of our society, supposedly symbolized by instructing their employees to say, "Merry Christmas," rather than the undeniably mundane, "Happy Holidays," or, even worse, "Season's Greetings."
I won't deny that I prefer to wish my fellow Americans, "Merry Christmas." And, I prefer to hear the same from others. The phrases "Happy Holidays," and "Season's Greetings," are silly and meaningless--poor replacements for a greeting that reminds our neighbors of the reason for our happy merry-making. Even so, I find the whole controversy both tremendously ironic and sadly pitiful. Allow me to explain.
The Christmas celebration is a commemoration and thanksgiving to God for the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. According to the accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born to an unwed, teenage girl in the backwoods of Palestine. He was birthed in a dirty hovel, with a feeding trough for a bassinet and strips of rags for a delivery blanket. His first visitors were shepherds, some of the filthiest workers of the ancient world, who carried along the stench of sheep feces, dampness, and dirt everywhere they went.
Our king, the Lord of lords, was brought into the world in the humblest of ways, to the commonest of people, for the sake of the lowly. Corporations like Wal-Mart, Target, and Sears are led by powerful men and women who profit from the greed and materialism of the masses. They pay millions, maybe even billions, in order to put commercials on TV, radio, and billboards seeking to convince you that your life is meaningless without their product. They associate happiness and fulfillment with buying, having, and hoarding. Moreover, these corporations work very hard to be sure they offer the least amount of insurance and protection to the least amount of their employees. When their stock dips too low, they fire hardworking Americans and ship jobs overseas where they can get cheaper labor.
These people are not necessarily malicious themselves, but they are a part of a system working great evil among us, a conspiracy of materialism deceiving millions and leading them away from the kingdom of God that belongs to the poor. And yet, in an irony of ironies, Christians of America are demanding that these same major corporations parrot the announcement of Jesus' birth.
To me, this is both ironic and pitiful. Are we really so desperate for the American culture to acknowledge us and make us comfortable that we want corporate America heralding the arrival of the Savior? Are we really so void of fervor for true Gospel living and authentic Gospel preaching that we need Target and Wal-Mart to pick up the slack? Are we really so ignorant of the revolutionary nature of the Good News that we want to employ Caesar and his minions to prop-up the Kingdom of God in America? I hope not.
So, in the "battle for Christmas," please count me out. I would be happy to celebrate Jesus' birth with the person himself or herself after their shift. But, I don't need or want a representative of powerful corporations wishing me a "Merry Christmas." I am seeking to figure out exactly what my Savior's birth has to say to me as his follower, but I definitely don't need the aid of Macy's in discerning such truths.
I am a Christian increasingly uncomfortable in our non-Christian/anti-Christian society and that's just fine with me. I should be uncomfortable. I should feel at odds with my culture. That's the way its supposed to be. So, the next time someone wishes me, "Happy Holidays," I'm not going to scowl. I'm going to thank God that the Kingdom is coming to turn everything upside down, and that it all started in a filthy stable in the backwoods of Bethlehem, and that God doesn't need corporate America to bring it all to pass.