Jesus is the Reason…

Folks react to these winter holidays in wildly divergent ways. Some despise them – we call such people “grinches,” after Dr. Seuss. Others can’t get enough of them – we call such people “mothers of toddlers with reindeer-footie pajamas.” The rest hold mixed feelings, and it’s not hard to see why:

Good Bad
long strings of lights long lines
gift-giving bills (for some people, this includes Buffalo)
Christmas carols Christmas carols starting roughly when people get bored with Punxsutawney Phil
snow snow

I’m enjoying the holidays a little more than usual this year, probably because last year they were yanked out from under us: we’d just had a baby and were too much of a wreck to enjoy anything beyond the rare glimpse of the insides of our own eyelids. Don’t know what ya got – holidays, sleep, the ability to use the restroom without making arrangements – ‘til it’s gone.

Besides, is there every really a bad time for the Vince Guaraldi Trio?

But there is one thing that’s been nibbling my nerve endings in recent years, a sound that’s become far more irritating than “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

It’s the sound of my fellow Christians grinding their teeth over imaginary slights.

Ever since I can remember, it’s been the custom that, at some point between Thanksgiving and Christmas, every priest, pastor or celebrant in Christian churches in the USA will take a moment to remind those assembled not to forget the actual point of Christmas: the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. It may be an entire homily, or a passing mention at the end of the service. I’m grateful for this. Despite the explicit religious music playing all around, the bustle and noise of the season make it hard for me to take even a quiet moment or two to sit back and reflect on deeper spiritual matters. (And it’s not getting any easier. “And to think, this was all started when – hey! Don’t put that in your mouth!”)

It’s from the soil of this annual reminder that the catchy little phrase “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” sprouted.

And a whole lot of Christians seem to be cutting down that sapling in search of pointy sticks.*

What was intended to be a gentle reminder from one Christian to another not to let the mercantile trappings and stress-inducing demands of the holidays distract us has instead become one more chip on the shoulder of Donald Wildmon and his ilk.

Wildmon and his American Family Association have spent a lot of energy in this past decade organizing boycotts of retail companies like Target, Best Buy, PetSmart, Home Depot, CostCo, and, this year, Gap, Inc. for using the generic term “the holidays” in their advertising instead of mentioning Christmas specifically.

Some of those chains stood their ground. Others caved. Intriguingly, Gap, Inc., decided just last month that the best way to deal with the issue was to release ads with a jingle that specifically mentioned Christmas, as well as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the winter solstice. Think this appeased the AFA? No, of course not! They’re now kvetching that the ads mention the winter solstice, which is a “pagan holiday”:

“Gap has responded to AFA’s call for a Christmas boycott of their Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic stores with a commercial that takes a cavalier approach towards Christmas. […] Did you notice it? Gap compares Christmas to the pagan holiday called “Solstice.” Solstice is celebrated by Wiccans who practice witchcraft![Emphasis in the original.]

Actually, Donny, solstice is an astronomical term. Solstices happen twice a year whether any big scary Wiccans are around to celebrate them or not. But I guess that’s just a quibble. Besides, you’re being a jerk and I probably shouldn’t reward your behavior by talking to you.

What’s my rationale for calling Donald Wildmon a jerk? One single word on that AFA page is enough: “compares.” In what way, exactly, does this lyric compare or contrast Christmas with the solstice?

Two, Four, Six, Eight, now’s the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.

The only “comparison” the jingle does is mentioning Christmas and the solstice in the same sentence. When Wildmon claims that this is some sort of affront, one thing can be clearly inferred: Wildmon believes other people’s holidays shouldn’t even breathe the same air as his.

This is beyond arrogance. This is, at the core, a paradigm of aggression born of fear: “The existence of your belief is a threat to mine. Your belief must, therefore, be destroyed.”

Yeah, so much for the Prince of Peace thing. I should note that Paul has some very specific comments about attitudes like these:

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (I Corinthians 5:12**)

But let’s leave Wildmon alone. He is, after all, just one man, and we all know that people who are given microphones and big audiences can sometimes say asinine things. Broadening our gaze, it doesn’t take long to find a lot of ordinary folks who have decided to take it upon themselves to “stick up for Christmas.” If you haven’t already received an email, search on Google or YouTube for “holidays Christmas” and it won’t take you long to find something. Wikipedia even has an article about it.

Look, it would be easy for me to say, “Nobody’s trying to take Christ out of Christmas.” But I won’t, because that would almost certainly be incorrect. I’ve learned not to say “Nobody does/wants/believes X,” because somewhere, someone does. (People are always saying, “Nobody wants war, but…” Well, that sounds great, until you realize that, in fact, some people do specifically want war. They like war and would like there to be more wars.) But I hope it would be obvious that the vast non-Christian world is populated by ordinary people, not a bunch of camouflaged demons who wring their hands and cackle madly when nobody’s looking.

I grew up Catholic with no notable exposure to non-Christian religions, so I was very fortunate that, in my sophomore year at college*** I had a Jewish roommate, whom I will call Benjamin. Benjamin was, no two ways about it, an all-around great guy. And though I probably graduated from college nearly as ignorant about the fine points of Judaism as I’d arrived, I still gained a lot from knowing him. I particularly remember Benjamin telling me about his experiences around Passover, going to the local grocery to buy matzo and having to explain to the perplexed employees what it was.

As Christians, we have no idea how much we take for granted. Even the smallest chain bookstores stock Bibles in multiple translations. Every major radio market and most second-tier ones have at least one station that plays music specifically catered to our faith, all year round. Every county fair and swap meet has a table full of t-shirts that I can buy, proclaiming the supremacy of Jesus to anyone who so much as glances at my torso.

So you’re working the checkout line at Target, and here comes a lady who is obviously, let’s say, Hindu. If you’re really familiar with Hindu celebrations, you can wish her a happy Pancha Ganapati. (I had to look it up.) Otherwise, if you want to say something more specific than “Have a nice day,” your only obvious choices are, “Happy holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” The implied part of the sentence is, “I hope you have (a)…”

But why would you say, “I hope you have a merry Christmas” to a person who doesn’t celebrate it? It’s as if someone said to you, “I’m going to spend this weekend on a quiet picnic with my family,” and you reply, “That’s great! Have a fun time at the concert.” “I’m not going to a concert.” “Yeah, but I am.” Wouldn’t that be, well, rude?

Of course, the reality is, a complete stranger probably won’t be wearing a tag that says, “Hi! Ask me about Ganesha!” But since most major religions have some sort of celebration around this time of year, I ask you: what, in the end, is wrong with “Happy holidays?”

It has nothing to do with so-called “political correctness.” It’s about choosing whether or not to be nice to people you don’t know. And we cannot for one moment seriously think that this sort of rudeness, this insistence that “my holiday trumps yours,” is somehow justified by evangelistic “need.” No evangelism is occurring. If anything, the gospel is being obscured. Paul again:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12)

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6)

I don’t know who you are, reading this. If you celebrate Christmas, have a Merry one. (Or a Happy one, if you’re British.) For that matter, if you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Pancha Ganapati, I hope it’s a joyous and special week for you. If you celebrate the Elephant Festival or Eid al-Adha, then I missed it, I’m sorry, and please feel free to tell me a bit about your holiday, because all I know is what I’ve gleaned from the web. And if your idea of a perfect holiday season is not to darken the door of any religious building whatsoever but just to experience the weather and lights and music with your friends or family, then enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, and be safe on the roads. However you intend to celebrate the end of the year, I hope it’s wonderful, and if anyone asks why I would want that, Jesus is the reason.

In our family, we’ll be celebrating Christmas. And I think, tomorrow morning, before my son wakes up, I will sneak into his room and just spend a few minutes looking at him. Sleeping babies are beautiful things.

* Who knew the shoot coming forth from the stump of Jesse would become the log in someone’s eye? Ha! Hey there, see what I did? I tied together Isaiah 11:1 and – ah, never mind.

** All quotes from the New International Version of the Bible. I’m not worried about angering the “KJV-Only” types because using the word “homily” already accomplished that.

*** Kids: when it comes time to go to college, if at all possible, leave home. Go someplace where you will be exposed to people who are unlike you. Listen to those people. Learn from them. In the process, you will be torn to pieces on the inside, and may even come to doubt a few things you thought were certain – but that’s what college is for, and you will almost certainly come out better and stronger for it.


4 Responses to “Jesus is the Reason…”

  1. 2009 December 4 at 4:46 pm

    I’ve started a Facebook group around this very issue, and I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve put up a link to this blog post – it says everything I wanted to say with the group – and very eloquently at that.

    Thanks for writing this!

  2. 2009 December 4 at 6:59 pm

    Brad: I don’t mind at all. And I’m flattered – thank you!

  3. 2009 December 4 at 8:30 pm

    I like this so much that I am giving you kudos here as WELL as on Facebook! 🙂

  4. 4 fnwtevr
    2009 December 4 at 10:10 pm

    It sure seems that those who proclaim this as a “Christian nation” really mean to say that it is a Christian’s nation.

    Well done, Jay.


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