By Brent Rinehart, Crosswalk.com
The latest battlefront in the so-called war on Christmas was recently in the state of Wisconsin, as the governor issued a call for students to design ornaments for the Capitol “Holiday” Tree. The outrage was swift and intense, sparking a nationwide debate about what to call it. “Christmas tree or a Holiday tree?” read the headlines on cable news shows.
Apparently, this issue dates back decades in Wisconsin and has been largely political. It was publically called a “holiday tree” for 25 years until Republican governor Scott Walker renamed it a “Christmas tree” in 2011. Democrat governor Tony Evers’s decision to recently go back to “holiday tree” was quickly rebuffed by the Republican-majority legislature.
These are adults, funded by taxpayers, sitting in rooms arguing about decorations. This is not unique to Wisconsin, as you are well aware. Each year, about this time, there’s a “war on Christmas” across the nation, and some people are really angry about it.
We live in a deeply divided country. We separate ourselves into teams. It’s us against them. The good guys against the bad guys. Unfortunately, the Christmas season offers no reprieve. Many of us have pretty strong opinions on matters such as these.
Many Christians feel that episodes--like that in Wisconsin--are examples of political correctness run amok and further evidence of God being pushed out of the mainstream culture. Many feel personally attacked or persecuted for their faith.
Some people get upset over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Nevermind the etymology: the word “holiday” comes from the Old English word for “holy day,” which means a consecrated day or day set aside for religious reasons.
Or, folks get upset about the use of “Xmas” instead of Christmas. Well, it seems those folks are ill-informed as well. X is the Greek letter “chi,” the initial letter in the word for “Christ.” For centuries, X has been used for “Christ.” In the early church, Christians used the letter X to indicate their devotion to Christ.
Still there are others who are upset that a select group of people want to remove a Nativity scene from the local court square. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how much attention they devote to the secular holiday trappings that overshadow Jesus in their own homes.
But, are these arguments completely missing the point?
The war rages on. Instead of devoting ourselves to divisiveness and social media outrage, I believe we should direct our attention to a few simple truths.
1. It’s Not the World’s Job to Represent Christ. It’s Ours.
I understand that for many, the removal of religious symbols from the public square is offensive. But, I can assure you, even in places where this happens, Christmas will not be canceled.
We still have an incredible opportunity to share the love of Christ and the message of what Christmas is all about. God can use anyone for His purpose. But, he’s specifically called his followers to reach the world (Matthew 28:18). It’s not the government’s responsibility. It’s the Church’s.
The simple fact we must understand is this: the world doesn’t look to Jesus for its celebration of Christmas. It has Santa, gifts and the Griswolds.
I believe it’s our job, not to fight the “war on Christmas,” but instead to live our own lives in a way that is worthy of what Christmas is about in the first place.
It means caring for our friends and neighbors.
It means reaching out in love.
It means being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Instead of being appalled when non-Christians act like non-Christians, perhaps we should be more appalled when Christian people fail to act like Christian people.
We should feel convicted when we fail to walk in a matter worthy of the Gospel. Or, to make it more personal, instead of getting upset when I read stories about the secularization of Christmas, I should use it as fuel to radically love like Jesus did.
There’s a quote I’ve seen a few times making the rounds on Facebook, and I love it. “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
2. The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Light.
At some point, most of us have experienced the loss of electricity in our homes during a storm. A small candle or flashlight is critical and can illuminate a whole room. When the power comes back on, the candle is adding ambiance, sure, but not adding much to the light.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And, we know that this is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when he said: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness” (Isaiah 9:2).
It was a dark time for the people of Israel when the Messiah finally arrived.
It had been 400 years of “silence” from God. No prophets to give updates. No new revelations. But, God was working that entire time to get things ready for Jesus. It seemed the world was getting darker and darker, but God was making sure the timing was just right to send His Light.
I love the story in Mark where the Pharisees questioned why Jesus would eat with sinners. His response was perfect. “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Those who already have Light, don’t still need it. But who of us could go the ret of our lives without light? We are to be the Light-bearers in the darkness.
It seems the world is becoming pretty dark. It’s easy to be discouraged when we observe the things around us.
But, perhaps, instead of looking at the world around us, we should fix our eyes with anticipation on Jesus. Just like Israel was eagerly awaiting the coming Messiah, we should eagerly look for His return.
Instead of bickering on earth about the things that will not last, we should make the most of the time, because “the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).
3. Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture to read at Christmas is Isaiah 9. “For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Those names and descriptions of who this Messiah would be are so powerful. Jesus is our comfort. He’s strong enough to make up for our incredible weakness. He’s everlasting and wants to spend eternity with His children. And, He brings peace … to your soul and between you and others.
Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Paul adds that “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Further, we should “follow after the things which make for peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another” (Romans 14:19).
So, why do we so often pursue those things that don’t bring peace, but rather division? The short answer is that it is our human (or sin) nature.
Many Christians aren’t good at being peacemakers. It’s easier to voice our opinions and justify it as “boldly proclaiming the Gospel.”
Christmas is a time to celebrate the peace that Jesus brings between man and God. And, when you allow Him to lead your life, you can live at peace with others. In the process, God can use you to speak to others who need to know about the Prince of Peace.
Fighting about saying “Happy Holidays” doesn’t help bring the “Peace on Earth” the angels sang to the shepherds at that first Christmas.
Is there really a war on Christmas? I don’t know. What I do know is there is a war against us. Jesus promised we would be in a battle: “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Our “adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Paul adds “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).
I, for one, don’t feel called to fight for a plastic baby Jesus at the city park or for a government to officially call it a “Christmas tree.”
I’d rather put on the armor of God and be ready.
I’d rather let Holy Spirit work in my life and produce fruit. I’d rather help those under my own roof know Him, and those I interact with see Him in me. That’s the real battle worth fighting.
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He writes about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Erin Mckenna