Celebration Contemplation: Christmas

I nearly became a casualty of "Christmas wars" this year. And, in fact, by last night - Christmas Eve - I was reeling from several near-mortal wounds to the soul.

Until God sent a rescue party from unexpected quarters. And reinforcement besides.


If you've heard or used the term "Christmas wars" in the last several years, it's likely been in reference to the assault on the holiday from various secular factions in our society: ACLU lawsuits against schools who dare to include a sacred song or two in "winter concert" programs; bean-counters at national retail outlets who ban in-store Salvation Army buckets and insist that clerks chirp out "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" so as not to potentially offend any angry-atheist big spenders; "Freedom from Religion" activists who harass tiny, Christian northwoods communities about creche scenes in town holiday displays, to name but a few. Those battles - standing up and speaking out against all the attempts to marginalize Christianity at Christmas - are emotionally exhausting.

But it was a whole different kind of war - "friendly fire," if you will - that nearly did me in this year.

The first mortars flew shortly after Thanksgiving in the form of Santa-bashers. Now, I fully understand and respect the reasons that many of my Christian friends do not include Santa in their Christmas celebrations; after all, he is a myth, and belief in him can far too often supplant families' recognition of Jesus' birth as the real (Christian) reason for the holiday. Over the past few years, I've worked through this in my own mind and feel comfortable with our rationale to allow our girls to think Santa is real for the time being - because of how we approach it (i.e., allowing the fantasy but not emphasizing it) and because he is based on the real person of St. Nicholas, who loved the Lord. And, truth be told, most of my friends who eschew Santa for themselves are not militant about it. However, I encountered a few cases of intense vitriol on the topic this year - so much so that some opponents of Santa traditions all but accused Santa-recognizing Christians of being unwitting, stealth Pagans.

Now, because I'd processed the matter before, these blows resulted in mere flesh wounds. However, the intensity of the blasts did cause some blood loss and weakened my spirit a bit. And that left me vulnerable to the full-on assaults from the Christ-professing Christmas haters.

These are the people - from a few specific denominations and traditions - who think they've got it all figured out and are certain of essential facts that are unknowable to the rest of us. They start with the idea that December 25 is an illegitimate date because the early church "co-opted" it from their non-Christian neighbors who happened to celebrate any number of Pagan holidays in honor of the winter solstice. Never mind that Jesus commanded believers to go into all the world (Matthew 28.18-20) to tell others about Him, starting with the story of His incarnation - and so we could choose to view the "co-opting" of December 25 as a redemption of that day. And never mind that - despite theorizing on all sides - there is no way from Scripture to pinpoint with absolute certainty the real day of His birth...so, really, for the purpose of remembering, any day will do. Nope. Because December 25 is not explicitly named as "the" day, these Christian Christmas-haters scream that the rest of us have become neo-pagans by daring to mark the occasion of His birth at this time of year.

And then they rant about the Pagan roots of pretty much every holiday tradition we've developed since the recognition of the holiday as special on the "Christian calendar." Do you think the use of evergreen trees symbolizes the eternal nature of God? Nope. They really indicate that you're participating in Pagan nature worship and unspeakable sexual fetishes. Do Christmas lights remind you of the stars the shepherds saw before the angels announced Jesus' birth? Uh-uh. Pagan. What about gifts? They are a remembrance of the presents the Magi brought for Jesus, as well as the recognition that Jesus Himself is the greatest gift any of us could receive, right? Nah. Just more unconscious Paganism.

Now for a couple of reasons - because I've learned to speak up over the past couple of years; because I'm loathe to see people caught up in legalism that draws them away from Jesus; and because I continually challenge myself to be sure I'm seeing things as much from Christ's perspective as I can this side of Heaven - I engaged these folks in discussion. I read what they blogged about. I listened to their arguments and considered their theses. I responded with what I know to be orthodox, biblical interpretation on these matters, trying (in love - really!) to help them see their misperceptions. And I was shot down at every turn.

Which is fine on one level. After all, I fully acknowledge that I don't have a corner market on biblical interpretation; I am a work in progress until the day the Lord chooses to take me home, and so the best I can do is trust Him and stay oriented toward Him as much as possible on the journey. And they are free to hold onto their interpretations - because we live in a free country and because the Lord gives us all free will. That makes me sad when I do know they're seeing things incorrectly, but it's still their right. And in every one of the discussions I came to the point of saying, "You may be right. But we will have to agree to disagree."

The deep wounds to my soul came as they replied, "Yep, you are wrong. Let me tell you again why."

None of this made me doubt the incarnation, of course, but the wounds sapped my joy. As the month progressed, I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into apathy toward Christmas. I paid more attention to all the needles littering my carpet than to the beauty of the tree and what it really stands for. When I opened Christmas cards, I wondered if the sender's motivation was "pure" or not. I couldn't bring myself to wrap gifts until Wednesday night. And I did start to wonder if I was misleading my children by celebrating in December - or at all - even though we have purposed to make our Christmas very Christ-centered.

So I went to church last night more out obligation than anything else. And, though it's a good "problem" to have, the fact that the place was packed out didn't help - because it was hard to find seats...hard to "be still" and contemplate the Lord...hard to locate friends to whom I wanted to wish a "Merry Christmas" and from whom I could receive a reassuring hug...hard to focus on the songs and sermon while I was pondering the "correctness" of the traditions. I tried - and then I enjoyed a sweet little Christmas show our girls performed for us in their Christmas jammies before their bedtime - but I still felt like I was bleeding out.

And then I found my friend Stephanie's blog post. Please take a moment to read it.

Stephanie is not like the vitriolic folks with whom I've been sparring - but she does embrace a lot of the same convictions in her personal walk of faith. And so her words, in particular, were like a skillful surgeon's hands removing shrapnel...and like a gentle nurse's touch applying the salve and wrapping the wounds.

When I finished reading, I wept and felt God's overwhelming peace wash over me. My soul would heal from the beating it's received this month - and, yes, all I really need to do is keep my own heart oriented toward Him, no matter what certain other folks might think of me looking at me from the outside. I was out of the ICU.

Then the Lord blessed me with reinforcement through the words of my friend, Paloma, who had blogged on this same topic earlier in the month. I can't link her blog, as it's by subscription only, but I have permission to quote her - and I have to provide a long quote because her wisdom, logic, and humor wrap things up perfectly:

We're going to celebrate Christmas.

We KNOW it's not the actual day of Christ's birth. We KNOW it's not in the Bible. But you know what? Ice cream isn't in the Bible either, and we enjoy that. We enjoy the fact that Christ was born. No, we don't have the right date, but nor do we claim to and we're at peace with that. We aren't saying that thou must observe Christmas or thou shalt certainly burn an eternity in Hell. We don't feel we 'have to.' We are simply going to spend some time being happy and celebrating the fact that the Saviour was born. There are lights on the tree, as He is the creator of light and we want His creation around us. There is a crown of thorns on the top, because we want a constant reminder that He came to die for us.

We have a tree. Yes, indeed, those Pagans used trees for all sorts of yiky things with them. People do yiky things with guns too, but we enjoy those as well. But GOD made the trees before the Pagans started using them for their idolatry. Does that mean I can never enjoy looking at an evergreen? God is eternal, ongoing, never ending, as is the evergreen. We are not chanting and dancing with the Druids, nor learning the language of the Shaman. We're simply being reminded of a few of the many characteristics of God every time we walk by.

We're giving gifts too. I know - insert a big commercialism and materialistic gasp here. I'm sorry, but there are a few people on the planet that we love. We have a perfect Father in Heaven who gives us fabulous gifts, and we'd like to emulate Him in our own pathetic-attempt way. Our children get one gift on each Sunday of Advent, you know - because we are waiting for His coming - the perfect gift we get to receive! If waiting in anticipation for our Saviour is wrong, then please forgive us. Our children get a few gifts as we all await the Perfect gift. They are not Pagan sacrifices; we are not trying to buy anyone's approval. We are loving our neighbor.

On Christmas Eve we're going to church and our daughter is playing in the orchestra. We're going to sing Christmas songs and be thankful for His arrival. We're not dancing around Stonehenge while slicing open the throats of small animals; we're going to worship the Lord.

And - steady yourself - on Christmas morning the children are getting stockings too. I know - we're going to Hell and would a Pagan hunter please come rip into me and beat me over the head over my evil ways? I'm sure that would help. You know - the story of the Christmas stocking is so sweet. Stockings are fun! Our children, our sons especially, are going to giggle with innocent pleasure for a brief moment of each year.

Yes, indeed, a lot of the things we use have been used by Pagans as well. Wiccans use salt in their witchcraft, and I use salt in the kitchen - but that doesn't make me Wiccan any more than owning a Bible makes me a Christian.

We celebrate Christmas, but it is not the driving force of the year. We don't elevate it above biblical holy days, nor equate it with such. We've thought it through. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? To what end?

No, everyone does not have to do it the way we do it. It's not our business, and to each his own. Just please be sure that you know why you do what you do or don't do, and be sure your motives are pure, rather than being caught in the trap of, and therefore exhibiting the fruit of, legalism.

"The fruit of legalism is easily recognized - arguments, jealousy, selfish ambition, and envy." (A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays)

If you celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas!

After reading this, I felt as if I'd been discharged from the hospital! I happily laid my daughters' Christmas gifts under the tree, spent some time reading my Bible, and went to sleep in peace, knowing I could allow myself to feel joy on Christmas morning and still be a faithful follower of Jesus.

I may yet be in need of some "occupational therapy" to fully recover from my wounds - and I know the purveyors of this particular "Christmas war" will be active on plenty of other fronts, looking to shoot down those with whom they claim to be brothers and sisters, between now and next December. But I also know that what I chose to put on Facebook yesterday afternoon - in an attempt to "ramp myself up" before I left for church - is truly the bottom line:

Whether Jesus was born at this time of year or in September or May...regardless of what traditions from other religions may have inadvertantly seeped in when December 25 was redeemed...despite propensities today to secularize the celebration...WHAT REALLY MATTERS is that Jesus - the Son of God - came to be with us. Without that, there could be no ultimate salvation for any. The End


Stephanie said...

Oh I so loved reading this Tina!! Well done:) And thank you for sharing what Paloma wrote, as I couldn't read hers. Thank you so much for your kind words, they touched me deeply.


Q said...

So honored to have been able to change shifts with Stephanie and to have been able to sign your hospital discharge papers.

Merry Christmas, Dear Lady!

p.s. I'll send blog invites to 99.9% of anyone who wants. Just have to keep out a specific few!

Tara said...

Oh my gosh....I desperately needed to read that and I had no idea how much. Thank you, thank you, thank you. ((((hugs))))

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