Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas: cultural debate, religious holiday, or extreme lifestyle?

This December pop culture is engaging in a debate over whether the word “Christmas” is politically correct. Chain retail stores, media outlets, and political agendas are instigating the controversy. Do we say “Merry Christmas” or do we say “Happy Holidays”? Most people quickly gravitate to one side of the debate and take a firm stand, ready to give foolproof answers to anyone who disagrees.

As one who has celebrated the birth of Christ every December for three and half decades, I understand those who are adamant about keeping the word “Christmas” in popular vocabulary.

As one who has spent five years living in the New York City Metropolitan Area, where most people actually did NOT grow up as evangelical Christians, I understand those who consider it courteous to acknowledge their neighbors’ differing religious views, and wish to use a more generic greeting.

So when I hear the fierce debate, I’m driven into myself to do some soul searching to determine what I really think about the issue. And, no surprise, I think both sides are missing the point.

For those of us who hold Christmas as an important day (and word), we have to take an honest look at what this word really means in the first place. We can’t freak out about the importance of the word, and then ignore what it really means. The word is made up of two words: “Christ” and “mas.” We know who Christ is. The second word, while originally used by the Roman Catholic Church to mean a liturgical celebration (specifically centering around the taking of the Eucharist), literally means “mission.” So, when we say “Christmas,” regardless of all the connotations we have attached to the word, we are literally saying “Christ’s Mission,” or “Mission of Christ.” And that is the heart of the matter, really.

I fear that those of us who hold the word dearly are really holding the holiday dearly. Of course we know that it isn’t really about Santa, and gifts, and pretty lights, and so forth. We’ve heard that preached at us every December since we were little enough to eagerly await Santa. Yet it still is really just a sentimental holiday to us. Part of the sentimentality for many of us, including myself, is the pausing to remember a baby in a manger on a “cold winter’s night that was so deep.” A few candles at a church service provide our sentimental fix along with the accompanying gifts on Christmas morn.

But the word “Christmas” is about the mission of Christ. That mission was a self-sacrificing giving of Self that ended in the ultimate sacrifice of Self, that of course led to the ultimate glory. It seems that to truly celebrate “Christ’s mission” we would have to imitate it, and that would mean radical sacrifice of self for those hurting and dying all around us. The sentimental holiday, or the choice of words we use to celebrate it, are really only minor matters compared to the extreme lifestyle transformation that would really signify our celebration.

So, while I admit that the sentimental reminder of the babe in a manger, combined with the giving of gifts, office parties, and family gatherings, are all more and more meaningful to me as I grow older (which is probably more of a good thing than a bad thing), I also admit that it really has very little to do with celebrating “Christ’s mission.” For that celebration, I long to find fellow journeyers who want to figure out how to really do that in Christmases future.

And as for the debate that our culture is waging, I’m reminded that Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the extreme left commentators on television do have one thing in common: during their lives, they all likely uttered the words “Happpy Hanukkah,” and none of them likely uttered the words “Merry Christmas!”

Just my thoughts, though.

Merry Christmas to you. And, if you practice the religion that Christ grew up with, I wish you instead a Happy Hanukkah. And, if you practice some other religion that I don’t understand or adhere to, I wish you a happy holidays, and I hope you know how very important the birth of Christ really is to me. Maybe someday soon I will grow mature enough to show you by my actions instead of by my mere choice of words.

And for those who share my heritage and are up for an adventure together, I would love to figure out one of these Decembers how to really celebrate the “Mission of Christ” together.


Blogger Greg said...

yeah, i'm commenting on my own comments, whatever that says about me.

somebody today wished me, via e-mail, a happy " christmaquanzahanukuh." I'm pretty sure there was some sarcasm in that, and me thinks me likes it a lot.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Bev said...

The problem today is that establishments are "telling" their employees that they can't say "Merry Christmas." Also, as you know, Happy Holidays is being used in ads rather than Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays is fine, but don't demand that we shouldn't say Merry Christmas for the sake of the few who don't want to hear it. Schools are being told they can't celebrate "Christmas" and if a tree is allowed, it can't be called a Christmas tree. It's "renamed" a holiday tree, a giving tree, or just a "tree!" I know for a fact what some school districts here in Oregon and in Washington are doing, and of course it is happening all across the country. Thankfully, people are beginning to speak out, but be warned. Keep a close eye on the schools Tori and Luc attend. If Chritians don't speak up and be salt and light to keep Christ, not only in Christmas, but as Lord of our land, than who will? The very liberal media and groups like the ACLU and others don't give a wit about "offending" Christians, and for far too long we have gone to the back of the bus. It's way past time to go to the front of the bus and out the door and in the streets and stand for our rights and for the very principles this land was built upon. The secular world wants "peace," but not as Jesus gives peace. If they succeed in taking Him out of our culture, they will truly know what it is to have "no peace on earth."

5:30 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I just hate to win "the battle" but "lose the war."

1:04 PM  
Blogger magel said...

greg-thanks for your thoughts, these are wonderful. the fact is that it doesnt matter, we celebrate the advent of our saviour. take christmas away, replace it with kwanzaa or whatever. burn all of the trees that doesnt change the fact that we celebrate and remember a wonderful event that happened. trees, songs, santas, and reindeer and even nativities are nice but they arent necessary to remember jesus being born into our world.

1:30 PM  

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