Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The "Merry Christmas" Mandate

It's not about the words we make people say.  It's about Jesus.  Of all times, we should realize that at Christmas.

Over the past decade, the "Keep Christ in Christmas" movement has been growing in its voice, but for many in the choir, it has become a battle of words, with little regard for the reality of Jesus.

Several years ago, when the movement was in its fledgling stage, Target stores and their parent Target Brands, Inc. became a target of Christians when the chain opted to go PC with their holiday marketing.  Out with "Merry Christmas," the chain said.  In with "Happy Holidays."

Many Christians in the U.S. were offended and let it be known.  Loudly and -- for the chain -- expensively.  While other stores and online retailers enjoyed a good sales season that year, Target's political correctness cost them a large market share.  Proving that their social conscience could be bought with a price, the chain opted back in on the "Merry Christmas" promos the following year.

In similar fashion, I have been in numerous Christian settings -- even in church services -- where people shared their snappy retorts to sales people who dared greet them with "Happy Holidays," instead of the mandatory, "Merry Christmas."  Some of these worshipers proudly told the congregation of their clever and biting words, designed to embarrass the offending store employees.

I know about these things because -- I'm sorry to say -- I was among the Christians beating our chests at the Target victory.  I joined in the conversation about methods to shame merchants who refused to utter the required phrase during the Christmas season.

Much to my shame, I was part of the groupthink that promoted the bizarre and unbiblical notion that we must make the world pretend to worship Jesus, regardless of their faith.

Do I want to keep Christ in Christmas?  Absolutely.  I want to keep Him in every moment of every day.  Not just on December 25th, but always.

But I have realized that in my zeal to mark a day on the calendar as "special," I have not just forgotten what the true meaning is, but I have actually gone against the very words of the Bible that I love so much.

Paul told the Colossians, "Don't let anyone judge you ... with regard to a religious festival ..." (Colossians 2:16).  In his letter about grace and spiritual fullness, Paul was reminding the young church that it's not about saying the right words or celebrating the right holiday.  It's about walking and living in the grace of our loving Lord.

Christmas is about Jesus.  It's not about slogans.  What do I tell the world about Him, when I try to force them into a compliance rather than sharing the love He pours into me?

I think about Jesus' many encounters with doubters.  His words were always loving, steeped in kindness.  So much so that the adulterous "woman at the well" ran into town and brought people back to meet Him.  Sharp words and anger were reserved for the self-righteous religious Pharisees ("brood of vipers") and those profiteering off the faithful ("den of thieves").

In our zeal to keep Christ in Christmas, are we drawing others to Him, or are we pushing them away with impersonal -- and uncaring -- dogma?

Would Jesus force "Merry Christmas" from their lips, regardless of what was in their hearts?

As we round the end of this year's calendar, let's remember to be Jesus in the lives of those we meet.  Regardless of the words they say.

Eyes on Jesus!

© 2010 by Ken Armstrong – All Rights Reserved
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