It’s Christmas Day. I woke up early today and watched as my kids opened dolls, games, and electronic gadgets. As they played with their toys, I played with my clothes and gift cards. It took a little more imagination, but it was the best I could do.
I’m not sure what any of that had to do with Jesus’ birth, but I’ll file it under “giving gifts in honor of Jesus’ birthday.”
As I think about what Jesus’ would really want for His birthday, there’s something I can’t imagine him caring much about…
…whether or not people say “Merry Christmas” or the more generic (and presumably less offensive) “Happy Holidays.”
I’m not a smart man (Forrest Gump-style), but my guess is that of all the injustice and suffering taking place in the world, this little change of seasonal greeting isn’t even a blip on the Son of God’s radar. But that’s just my hunch.
Before you go getting your new Christmas underwear in a wad, please allow me to explain.
- The word “Christmas” is not in the Bible. As best I can tell, Christmas wasn’t celebrated by followers of Jesus until at least a hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, and some believe the winter date was chosen to counter Roman worship of the god Saturn on the winter solstice (December 21). Christmas wasn’t an “official” holiday until the 6th century. Jesus was probably not born in the month of December, but more likely in early fall. How can we get so dogmatic about claiming December for Christmas when Christ was born around September? Why would we get our feathers ruffled and insist everyone use a word that’s not even in the Bible?
- There is at least one December holiday that pre-dates the Christian celebration of Christmas. Hannukah has been celebrated since 165 B.C. Or approximately 160 years before the birth of Jesus. If you’ve never read about its history, it’s a beautiful story of what happens when God’s people refuse to worship any other God but Him. Why would we claim exclusive rights to December when our celebration isn’t even the oldest on the books?
- Insisting everyone say “Merry Christmas” and ignoring all other faiths and traditions is basically saying, “you have to do it our way or we’ll pitch a fit.” And isn’t that the kind of people we all avoid being around? Who likes to spend time with someone whose life motto is “my way or the highway?” Not me.
- Recognizing that other people have different belief systems and traditions shows a tremendous amount of respect. Discipleship and evangelism (sharing the “good news” of Jesus’ birth, life, mission, death, and resurrection) cannot exist without the context of healthy relationships. And respect is one of the foundations of healthy relationships. How can we insist that other people respect our traditions if we won’t respect theirs as well? How can we ever talk about the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus without showing unconditional love and acceptance first?
I love Christmas. I celebrate it and have for almost 40 years now. I’m not trying to denigrate it or downplay it in any way, shape, or form. What I am trying to do is re-orient us to the reason Jesus was born into this world in the first place.
To do something about oppression, slavery, and darkness.
He wasn’t born so that we all would learn to say “Merry Christmas.” He was born to deliver the oppressed. He was born to set people free. He was born to bring light.
Merry Christmas, to all of my fellow “followers of the Way.” And to everyone else, happy holidays!