by ProfDave, ©2021
(Dec. 23, 2021) — Another season of the Christmas wars. Yes, I am mildly offended by the pervasive effort to forget what Christmas is all about. Jesus is the reason for the season. And the determined efforts of some well-heeled Grinches to stamp Christmas out altogether are chilling. Can’t help feeling that those stores who censor the word “Christmas” don’t want my Christmas money, so I shouldn’t give it to them.
But this teeters on the brink of being the very kind of discrimination we are objecting to. How do our non-Christian friends feel about this? I don’t think saying “Merry Christmas” would or should offend anybody but an anti-Christian Atheist, but yelling rude slogans at them, or boycotting their store would be rude and not Christian at all, wouldn’t it? Returning evil for evil?
Clearly, there is a strident hatred of Jesus and all things Christian abroad in our world. There have been more Christian martyrs in the last century than all nineteen centuries before combined. And it is coming to stores near you. Christian martyrs bear witness, but do not fight back. Christianity is most powerful when Christians act like Christians.
Why do people hate the name of “Christ” so much? Why is the name of Jesus becoming a wash-out-your-mouth-with-soap dirty word? Why do they hate Jesus so much? Are they afraid of him?
Anyone who objects to homosexuality for any reason these days is called a homophobe. Perhaps there are those who have an unreasonable gut reaction of fear and revulsion. But I submit that Christophobia is at least as common. It is an irrational emotional reaction to you-know-who. I brought a Bible to work once to read on my break and the guy in the desk behind me went berserk! I assumed he was unique – later got taken away for threatening someone in the parking lot with a tennis racket. But now it is in the newspapers every day! We live in a nation where the majority of ordinary people (not the entertainers and newscasters) are – lets call them – *ians. We should expect to see *ian symbols, and hear *ian ideas, not to mention the name of the one *ians believe was God in the flesh who died for them – all over the place. And during a *ian holiday season, we should expect to hear that season’s proper *ian name, *ian carols, and the *ian story. And we should expect public officials who happen to be *ians to act like and sound like *ians. And, to pray in the name of *. If the majority of us are not free to be ourselves, none of us are free. Something is wrong with these folks. Christophobia. Excuse me – *ophobia.
Christ came, He comes, He is coming. The coming of the Lord is a wonderful and terrible thing. The Pastor opened up the Christmas story in Matthew 1. For a Jewish audience, we are given the legal genealogy of Jesus, through Joseph “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (there is another one in Luke, presumably Mary’s – both Davidic). Matthew makes the virgin birth explicit and refers to the prophecy of Isaiah 7. King Ahaz was in a national crisis, facing invasion by his neighbors. God offers deliverance, if Ahaz will trust him – deliverance symbolized by a virgin born child named Immanuel (God with us). Ahaz rejected the offer, choosing a “real” plan – alliance with Egypt. As Isaiah foretold, within 65 years Assyria laid waste to Judea. Now Judea was being given Immanuel again. God was present (Immanuel), but rejected. Assyria came. The coming of Immanuel by virgin birth revealed Herod as a murdering tyrant. Rome came with destruction. We have the same choice today. Immanuel comes. Will we receive Him or judgment?
Talking snowmen, flying reindeer, railroads through your front lawn, an abominable green furry creature who lives on Mt Crumpit, what will they come up with next? But only one “Xmas” story gets censored: the baby in the manger! Now that one is really threatening! Just recently, I heard that he has been banned from our military bases overseas – by and for people who insist that he is imaginary! Like the Grinch isn’t? What’s the difference between a rubber doll and a plastic deer with a red light bulb in its nose? Could it be that one is meaningful to a lot of people and the other (safely) isn’t? And what kind of people prefer a meaningless world? What sort would want to deprive others of something meaningful? And in the name of tolerance? These folks need treatment for Christophobia! The Grinch is evidently alive and well and unrepentant! And every year he hires lawyers to steal Christmas.
Speaking of the Grinch and National Ding-a-ling Day – they are after the Salvation Army bell ringers! Persuading stores to ban them from their entryways and boycotting stores that don’t. They are the one church that really does practice what they preach in caring for the poor – to the point that we forget that they are a church. But somebody noticed that they don’t believe in sex outside of marriage (homo or hetero) or perform same-sex weddings. Is there anything good that isn’t being attacked by the PC police these days? Nobody should help the hurting who doesn’t agree with you, right? Dear Grinches: if everything good is evil, then what does that make you?
Do you recall that weekend in 2012? Friday morning we were treated to the Sandy Hook massacre and Sunday morning the children’s Christmas program. Sandy Hook used to be part of my territory when I worked for Post University, by the way, and I think I drove past that school in my travels. Innocence was smashed like a Halloween pumpkin and a baby was born to die on a cross. Remember the Holy Innocents? Herod the Great, in his paranoia, responded to the news of the wise men by killing all babies in Bethlehem to prevent Jesus from becoming King. Jesus escaped and is still King, but we are still trying to get rid of him. At least Herod had a purpose. The Newtown killer had none that we can comprehend. You don’t need a purpose in a meaningless world.
Someone on Face-book that week had said they didn’t believe that evil was real. Explain that to me again, will you? If people are basically good and there is no devil (of course not!) where do these dark urges come from? Why do things like this still keep happening nine years later? Tell me again what we have gained by banishing the Bible, prayer and anything to do with God from our schools. There was probably a lot of praying going on in Sandy Hook Elementary that Friday morning – ACLU take notice!
Maybe the children’s programs and the babe in the manger did have something to do with the slain children in Sandy Hook – and the staff dedicated to serving them. The Christ child came to give meaning and significance to human life – children having a special significance. It is time we let Him back in – not just into the schools but into our hearts.
Christmas will be here before my next post (Aaargh, I’ve got to do my shopping!)! The existence of Christianity tells us that Jesus did rise from the dead and that he will come again. The same Word that promised the birth of Emanuel, the suffering servant, promises the coming of the King and Judge of all the earth. A new heaven and a new earth – a new cosmos – is promised – in a new nature that runs on the glory of God. And I am promised a place in it! Thanks be to God for the unspeakable gift of His Son! He came, He comes into my heart, and He will come to make all things new! That’s something to be Merry about this Christmas!
Sorry, folks, but I have a poor attitude towards Kwanzaa. In the first place, it is of dubious African connections – originating in 1966 in the USA. Secondly, it seems to assert that Christianity is a white man’s religion: a totally false idea. What an insult to Black Christianity, the solace of the slave and the soul of the African American community to this day! Christianity started out brown – Middle Eastern Jewish – and quickly spread to Africa, to Europe, and to Asia. It is universal. That is why it is hated so much. It insists on including everyone, whether we want to be included or not! Christmas is for everybody. You don’t have to believe in it or celebrate it, just accept it for what it really is: a Christian holiday that is offered to everyone to enjoy. Get used to it!
I do hope you will have as wonderful a December 24/25 as we will. A glorious dinner and Christmas Eve service. Then Christmas morning with the whole clan and a mountain of excess – both of food and of gifts! We always start with the Christmas Story from Luke and Matthew (on an imitation parchment from my childhood).
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Honestly, yes and no. Yes – in the very name. It will take a lot of lawsuits and censorship to expunge “Christmas” from the “Holidays.” Militant secularists (the Jesuits of the new state religion) have rightly noted that it is a religious word, made up of two religious terms, “Christ” and “mass.” “Christ” is the Greek word for Messiah, or Anointed One. Jesus of Nazareth got himself executed for accepting that title and giving it a divine rather than a military meaning. The “mass” part refers to a special Eucharist celebrated since the early Middle Ages around the winter solstice to celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom Christians call the Christ. So you can’t really have the “holidays” without implying Jesus.
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Maybe not – in one sense. The winter solstice was a pagan celebration long before it was a Christian. And it was the department stores in the 1840’s that brought in most of the tinsel, celebration, and gift giving. When the Christians had it all to themselves, it was no big deal at all: just some special music, pageants, and maybe an orange, a goose and some special home-made sweets. Historically, the early church did not celebrate Christmas. They were focused on Good Friday and Easter. The Hebrews didn’t even mark birthdays. It wasn’t so important when you were born, but to whom you were born. The important festivals of that part of the world were spring and fall, following the cycles of the crops. Hanukkah, celebrating the rededication of the temple, didn’t become important until provoked by Christmas commercialization. Further north, however, Europeans celebrated the coming of the solar new year, the resurrection of the sun (evident by 12/25), with pagan sacrifices and revelry. Christians saw it as nature’s revelation of the resurrection and return of the Eternal Son. How should Christians celebrate the winter solstice?
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Fundamentally, yes. Pagan celebrations of the solstice were swept away many centuries ago with the gods of horror and superstition they represented. The Gospel really was “good news” to most European pagans (and African, Native American. and many Asian polytheists, too). Folk elements from the darker past only survived as they were invested with Christian meanings. And more recently, the department stores and greeting card companies only commercialized a cherished religious celebration that was already there. Christmas has been Christian since the plow has been iron.
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Maybe, just maybe, Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe, just maybe, Christmas means just a little bit more. Cut through all the tinsel and trappings and wrappings and you find a kernel of foreign matter – like the bit of grit around which the oyster has, layer by layer, built a pearl. Only in this case the center is the pearl (the supernatural) and the layers of accretion are the grit (the mythical), human and natural though they are.
The central story of Christmas is of such power and meaning that we are uncomfortable with it. So we surround it with myths and traditions of saccharine sweetness and sentimental morals, like St Nicholas. St Lucia and the Three Kings. From them we get Santa Claus, The Christmas Carol, Rudolph, Frosty, Polar Express, and my personal favorite, the Grinch. Great children’s stories and good for business. We can draw moral lessons from them and even get our children to believe in Santa – for a while. We play further and further from the radioactive core of the real. We are uncomfortable, in this relativistic age, with anything claiming to be truth. We wrap the supernatural in layer upon layer of sweet fantasy. There is a difference between the imaginary and the supernatural, myth and metaphysics.
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Yes, in meaning. That is what is so alarming that it gives the ACLU conniptions. Under all the layers of magical secretions is a completely alien story which, if not true still beats all the other stories hollow, but if true changes everything. (The word ‘alien’ means not from around here, foreign to human imagination and human religion)
What if the Creator of heaven and earth loved us so much that He chose to become one of us (!), be born in a stable(!!), live among us, and subject himself to the worst that we could dish out(!!!), so that we could break out of our rebellion (!!!!) and be reconciled to Him? What if the way to rightness was not by self-help but by God-help, not self-righteousness but God-righteousness? Can you comprehend what that would mean? No wonder we prefer the fat old guy in the red suit coming down a chimney! We prefer to earn our presents (and take credit for it) by being nice little boys and girls for a couple weeks before Christmas. Hmmh!
What if Jesus was actually and factually the Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us? Most religious people, the world around, think of religion as mankind’s search for God. We try to placate and please whatever gods there be by being “nice,” performing rituals, making sacrifices (animals, babies, or – more recently – spare change), or performing impressive deeds of self-denial (walking on hot coals, self-mutilation, sitting on pillars, or giving up meat for lent) – or perhaps ecstatic dancing or speaking in tongues? Have I offended everybody yet?
But the Gospel is an equal-opportunity offender. The scandalous “Good News” is that none of the above is necessary. You need not search for God. Just turn around – the Christian God is searching for you! He is keeping a list and checking it twice, but He doesn’t care who is naughty or nice – but whether or not you open the door and let Him in: accept the reconciliation He paid for on the cross. He’ll take care of making you “nice.” And the presents are lavished upon us, not because of anything we do, but because of what he did – in making us HIS children. Now THAT’s what I call a Merry Christmas!
Wise men still seek Him. That is what Epiphany is all about. God wrote His promise of Messiah in the words of the prophets so that Israel could read it, and in the Heavens so that Persian Magi could read it, too. In that day, many people read the Scriptures to apply only to national liberation – or whatever they wanted to hear. Most people looked up at the stars and said, “that’s nice.” They weren’t seeking Him, but their own agenda. “But to as many as received Him,” Jew and Gentile, “to them gave He power to become the children of God.”
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.