Saturday, December 24, 2005

"Home for Christmas"

Tonight, I'm spending Christmas Eve at home with Rebekah, Tori, & Lucas. We were at a party last night, and we'll be gathering with others tomorrow. But tonight is the first Christmas Eve that I have not spent at some kind of "official church function" since either one of my kids were born. It's nice.

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.