I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday. As I think about what we are celebrating, it never ceases to amaze me: the Creator of the universe enters our world and takes on human form. He begins His time on earth as a baby born of a virgin. Our faith rests on believing Jesus’ virgin birth as a true historical event. As Christians we are to share the fact that God dwelt among us as a man with as many people as possible and Christmas provides a great opportunity to do that. Jesus as a baby is easier to talk about than Jesus the man. In the movie Talladega Nights, Bobby Ricky (played by Will Ferrell) proclaims “Baby Jesus is my favorite Jesus” to his dinner guests. My guess is that’s how most people feel. Baby Jesus is safe. Baby Jesus is a symbol of peace on earth, goodwill toward man. Those messages are much more appealing than the things the adult Jesus stands for.
There is one seasonal phenomenon that has started to rear its ugly head that needs careful thought: Christians insisting that “Merry Christmas” is the only permissible phrase to be used this time of year. In our zeal to insure Jesus is kept in the spotlight, we declare that “Happy Holidays” won’t do. A couple of years ago, there was even an online effort encouraging people to boycott stores that refer to this time of the year only as the holidays. In defending this stance, we claim we are trying to keep Christ in Christmas.
Matthew 28:19 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
As a committed follower of Jesus, we are to be conscious of how our behavior affects others, making sure it reflects Christ. Every word we utter should be measured to insure we do not turn non-believers away from Him. No matter the season, we must strive to show others’ His love. Christmas provides an opportunity for talking to others about Jesus as we celebrate His birth, but focusing on telling everyone “Merry Christmas” with no regard to what they might believe is short-sighted. It can also be regarded as a form of Phariseeism. Just as the Pharisees wore their phylacteries on their forehead and long fringes on their robes to show others their religious position, wishing others Merry Christmas is merely an outward sign of our religion. God isn’t concerned about outward signs. He cares only for what is in our hearts.
Matthew 23:27: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”
I jumped right on the bandwagon of letting everyone know that December is the celebration of Christ’s birth. I was determined to put Christ back into Christmas. I was a real soldier in the fight to re-claim December for Jesus. I wore my “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” pin and responded to “Happy Holidays” with “Merry Christmas” believing I was standing up for my Savior. One day I wished someone a Merry Christmas and her response was, “I’m Jewish.” She smiled and wished me a Merry Christmas, telling me she hoped I enjoyed the holidays. Her response showed much more love than I had been willing to show others. While my hope is that all will come to know Christ, the reality is that many are not there yet. If I am to be used by God to win people over, I have to demonstrate His love, just as this woman had done. I showed no love for the lost during the time I was celebrating God’s great love for me.
I Corinthians 8:11-13: “…when you … wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
That brief conversation could’ve turned out much worse. I was fortunate to have encountered a forgiving, tolerant Jewish woman who understood the holiday she celebrates during this time of the year is not that of the majority. She was gentle in her correction of me. I realized my insistence that Christmas be the only holiday recognized only demonstrates to others that I care very little for them. It disregards the fact that many people do not know Jesus as their Savior. My “Merry Christmas” message wasn’t about winning them to Christ – it was all about me. It was more apt to be a stumbling block, moving them farther away from considering my faith as I shoved it onto them, showing little, if any respect for where they are spiritually at that moment. I realized that lady was one of Christ’s lost sheep and I did nothing to draw her closer to Him with those two words.
The real spirit of Christmas is becoming more like our Savior in the spirit of selflessness. Showing respect for others’ current belief only strengthens the chance they will consider Jesus. As I shoved Christmas down the throat of every shop clerk and holiday shopper I could, I did not understand how selfish my crusade was. My priority was MY belief, MY holiday. I was not thinking about how disrespectful I was being to anyone who was not a follower of Jesus. This was about as far from selflessness as I could get! I heard a well-known teacher and preacher tell about his trip to India and he began talking about the need for the man he was visiting to go pray at his mosque. I expected the Christian to use the opportunity to teach something about Jesus, but instead he agreed to accompany the man to the mosque. I was quite surprised! He didn’t object, didn’t use the situation to proclaim how wrong the other was in his beliefs. He simply showed respect by allowing their meeting to be interrupted by the man’s religious practice. He went on to tell how the incident helped their friendship grow as the man was more willing to listen due to the respect he had been shown.
Galatians 5:14: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I thought about how I felt during my December “crusades” when someone wished me “Happy Holidays.” I was offended. I realized that is probably the reaction a non-believer has when I insist they have a “merry Christmas.” Right or wrong, the fact is different people are celebrating different things at the very time we celebrate our Lord’s birth and we must recognize that. Jesus meets us where we are. He doesn’t require we clean up our act before He will extend His grace to us. And He is our example of how we are to treat people.
So what are we to make of businesses that have gone the way of the generic holiday? Well, they have a business to run and they are trying to provide goods to anyone who might walk into their store. “Happy holidays” covers everyone. There are a number of different holiday celebrations during December: Hanukkah is being celebrated by the Jewish people, Kwanzaa is celebrated by many African Americans, Eid Al Adha by Muslims, Festivus, a tongue-in-cheek holiday idea introduced on the TV show Seinfeld, has even been taken up by atheists! Consider how a Muslim will appreciate your acknowledgment of Eid Al Adha, or how a Jewish family will cherish your card wishing them a Happy Hanukkah. Your respect for their religious beliefs will open up many more opportunities for a discussion about Jesus.
James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only…
Keeping Christ in Christmas is so much more than a phrase we utter or words we use during this time of the year. We do a great disservice to God when we focus on these outward signs. If someone wishes me “happy holidays,” I can assume they are not a believer and should look for opportunities to share the good news with them. Jesus made it very clear that we should not be like the Pharisees, bearing only outward signs of our love for God. God’s desire is that we show compassion, mercy and love for others. Wishing a non-believer a greeting that is in keeping with where they are spiritually is one way to show your respect and leave open the possibility that next year you’ll be able to wish them a “Merry Christmas!”
As the holiday season gets under way, I pray that I will remember the other celebrations taking place during this time and that I will look for opportunities to share the good news of Christ’s birth with someone ready to hear it. But I must always remember that an appropriate greeting should be appropriate to the hearer. I don’t want to slam the door on my ability to reach anybody – Merry Christmas should not be a stumbling block!