I received an e-mail from the AFA giving me the wonderful news that the governor of Kentucky has backed down on calling the Christmas tree in the state capitol a “holiday tree” and will call it a Christmas tree. In order to help this happen elsewhere, I’m told to buy packets of buttons, wear them, and get all my friends to wear them. There are even church packs and a display pack of 250 buttons.
At the same time I am already seeing Christmas advertising on TV and hearing it on the radio. I understand the reasoning behind it. After all, I’m a businessman too, and there will be lots of Christmas buying. I can’t help but hope that some people will choose various books offered by my company as Christmas presents. But that is a commercial desire related to a commercial holiday.
Some Christians feel that there is a war on Christmas, and that this war involves rules requiring store clerks or government officials to wish people happy holidays rather than merry Christmas or the removal of creche displays from public parks. If I could steal an idea from C. S. Lews (Screwtape Letters) and think like a demon for a moment, I would regard this as an excellent diversionary attack.
Before D-Day in World War II the Germans were convinced that the allied landings would come somewhere around the Pas de Calais. The distance was shorter, the logistics would be easier, and it made a great deal of strategic sense. The allies went to some trouble to foster this impression, even creating a fake army that consisted merely of tents and communications gear that simulated an invasion in preparation. Because the Germans were convinced that the real attack would come somewhat to the north of where it did, they delayed in committing their mobile reserve (panzers), much to the benefit of the allied forces.
While we’re worried about losing the external trappings of Christmas, such as public trees and manger displays, the real war on Christmas is practically won already. Christmas has almost nothing at all to do with Jesus. This has been my opinion for many years. Christmas as celebrated in America, even in most of our churches, is about us and our economic prosperity, not about Jesus and his good news.
Studying the liturgical year has just emphasized this to me more, and now that I’m teaching a series on the gospel of Luke for a Sunday School class, I find it rubbed in my face. The advent comes at a time of great trouble and need. There is long expectation, hope kept alive through times of hardship, and recognition of need. When God’s gift comes it does not look like what the world sees as success or greatness. The birth of Jesus is not a commercial success. God gives himself to us at the time of our greatest need. Receiving the gospel message is like a reenactment of this in miniature. The wise men come and give gifts to the king in the manger, though he hasn’t asked. Shepherds worship him. The babe in the manger is the center of God’s activity, even though the world around hardly notices.
This is almost totally unlike our Christmas celebrations in the church or in our homes. Oh, we certainly do give something to others. There will be gifts sent to children who will not otherwise have a Christmas and food packages passed to people in need. But let’s face it. Most of our money will be spent on us. Christmas will not look largely like a spiritual experience. We’ll start celebrating it weeks early even in church. We’ll skip over the advent expectation and go straight to the Christmas celebration.
And that celebration will mostly be about us. It will largely be a commercial holiday for us. The emphasis on Christmas, such as it is, will not be a witness to Jesus, but rather to “Christianity – the Brand.”
The war on Christmas is going rather badly for us. Perhaps we should quit bothering about the wrong war, and save whatever money we were going to spend on “Merry Christmas” buttons to use to help others. If you don’t have any idea where to give it, I’d be happy to make some suggestions.