Thursday, 19 December 2013
The Christian war on Christmas
Let’s face it. Christmas is a bizarre holiday with a weird history and is celebrated in some crazy ways around the world. If you don’t know what I am talking about you can read about some of the weirdness over here to see just how strange things can get. But as foreign as some other peoples traditions may be, one could argue the point that eating KFC in Japan on Christmas Eve is pretty mild in comparison to us telling our kids that a fat bearded guy from the North Pole will break in on xmas night and leave some presents under the tree that we dragged inside and decorated, he will then fly away in a reindeer powered sleigh. If we are lucky, he may even leave some sweets for us in the sock hanging up (not in your sock drawer but in the living room) that must have previously belonged to a one footed man with a giant foot.
No matter how we rationalize it, Christmas is undoubtedly a worldwide and worldly holiday which has roots going back way before the birth of Christ. There are even those few verses in Jeremiah 10:2-4 that speak about not being like the pagan nations who “cut down a tree and decorate it with silver and gold”, something eerily close to our modern practice. So what should our response as Christians be to the Americanized version of Christmas that merges Christ and consumerism? Some seem to embrace it wholeheartedly while others are ready to smack you over the head with their metaphorical placard if they catch you humming along to a carol.
All I can do here is share my own opinion on this which I consider to be not necessarily a middle ground, but a third perspective. I don’t necessarily feel that we should celebrate Christmas, at least not every aspect of it. There are those few verses in Jeremiah I mentioned earlier, but I am not really sure if they are any different than the ones found throughout the Old Testament that say things like “don’t shave the corners of your beard”. The pagan aspects originally associated with Christmas have all disappeared just like the ones associated with the names of the days of the week have ( think SATURNday, SUNday, MOONday etc). As for my family, we have ditched the tree and accessories but not because I think we are under the old Hebrew law but more as an act of being sensitive toward the beliefs of some of our friends who are against it.
Although we still get together with family and exchange small gifts with each other, I would like to think that we avoid making the day about just getting stuff. One of the scariest things I read recently was that Americans alone spend $450 billion on Christmas annually; to put that in perspective, $20 billion would be enough to give water to the world for a year. That means if America alone spent 5% less on buying gifts and donated that money to the right people, the entire would have access to clean drinking water. So why not cut back a little on our spending and donate to a good cause? I personally like GFA because 1) I know one of the leaders and can vouch for their ministry and 2) 100% of your donation goes to what you gave it for, plus you can even choose the gift. You can pick anything from a water purifier to a pair of chickens which means eggs and income to a poor family. These are life changing gifts that come with the message of God’s love.
While I am not super eager on celebrating most aspects of Christmas, I do feel that we should celebrate Christ always, and the 25th December does present some unique opportunities to do this. It certainly offers up opportunities to share the Gospel, it is also an annual reminder of the birth of Jesus and everything that that entails and I love reading the blogs and scriptures on the subject that pop up this time of year. It is also a chance to be charitable as opportunities for giving are everywhere we look.
So yeah, to those who love the holiday, great, but let’s keep perspective. Many of us scoff at the prosperity preachers, but in reality we still live very comfortable lives and when our bank account looks healthy, we normally spend the money on fancy holidays or small shiny things and call it God’s blessing without really considering our needy brothers out there in the world. I’m not saying we can’t go on vacations or buy nice things, but rather that we should examine our hearts more carefully.
And to those who oppose Christmas, I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 14
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it...but why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?...Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brothers way.
Some would say that we are called to be holy and separate from the world, but when we judge others motives or lack grace then how separate are we from the ways of the world? It’s better to err on the side of caution with ourselves while extending grace to others.
Happy holidays all! May the life of Christ capture your hearts this Christmas. :)