The “War On Christmas” is bogus…except that it’s not.
The trouble with the War On Christmas is that there really is a war. And it really is about Christmas. It’s just not the war we hear about this time of year. It’s not the war being sold on cable television and being highlighted by purveyors of outrage — those who comb and dig for the least little offense attempting to magnify them in the hopes of riling up folks who are otherwise just trying to get on with life.
But there is a war. And it is about Christmas.
You see, there’s a mad man ruling over Jerusalem. He has power. He has an army. He has comfort and control and he wants to keep them both. His name is Herod, and like all people of privilege, his most pressing concern is keeping it. He’s the King and there’s nothing kings like less than the arrival of another king.
Over in Bethlehem, though, Christmas is going on – baby, manger, Joseph, angels, Mary, the star, the whole boat. This is the Christmas we like to sing about. This is the Christmas of pageants and preschool plays; it’s the Christmas we think about as we hang our stockings by the chimney and decorate the tree. It’s this Christmas that feels so wonderful in department stores as the muzak of “Silent Night” seeps through the rattle of blown-out speakers. This is the Christmas of City Hall tree-lightings and candy canes.
We love this Christmas. Who wouldn’t?
Some of us love this Christmas so much we’re offended when people appear to want to dismiss it, minimize it and boil the thickness of its traditions into a bowl of flavorless mush.
But the truth is, what we love most is only a part of the story. A small part.
Christmas is also a young couple living under suspicion of scandal. It’s Mary skipping town during the night to spend time with distant relatives while her tummy grew larger. Christmas is Herod ordering a genocide. It’s young mothers from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and all parts in-between clutching their baby boys as the soldiers draw knives. Christmas is fathers feeling feckless and weak with no way to stop the murder of their sons. Christmas is Mary and Joseph charting the route for a kind of Jewish Underground Railroad as they escape from Bethlehem to Egypt, not knowing if they would ever be able to come home.
The first Christmas was not celebrated by merchants, public figures, and governments honoring the faith commitments held by some members of their society. Yes, there was gold and frankincense and myrhh, but Christmas equally began with dust and blood and tears.
There is a War on Christmas and there has been one for some time.
The prophet Isaiah said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (9:6-7)
Christmas is the pronouncement that the promised king is coming to proclaim the promised Kingdom. Sometimes we like that. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes, like Herod, we’d rather have things our way than God’s way and in those moments, we are at war with Christmas.
At War With Christmas
You are at war with Christmas every time God’s Holy Spirit stirs you to generosity and care for the poor and you side with the principalities of culture which tell you that the best way forward for humanity is only through ruthless self-reliance and self-concern.
You are at war with Christmas every time you’re prompted to extend the hand of reconciliation to those who think differently, act differently and live differently than you, but you choose biting partisanship instead.
You are at war with Christmas when someone offends your religion or your lifestyle, and you choose to defeat them rather than being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
You are at war with Christmas when you decide the arrival of Jesus should prompt you to give and share rather than hoard, but you cannot let loose of the assumption that all your blessings are for your consumption.
You are at war with Christmas when the command of Jesus to love your neighbor and love your enemy has been so forgotten that you become annoyed when someone smiles and says, “Season’s Greetings.”
The Real War
There is a terrible, profound war on Christmas. Since that “O Holy Night” there always has been. But if you believe this war is about a 20-year-old check-out girl at a department store wishing you “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” you’ve simply let loose of your horses.
The real war is within you and it is within me. It’s the battle we wage against the powers and principalities prompting to us to live like Herod. We can fear our loss of power and control. We can fool ourselves into believing the lie that the world we want will be built by domination. We can live as if the first shall be first and that the meek inherit nothing.
Or we can choose to embrace the baby who comes and is called “The Prince of Peace.” Only then can we end the war.