I posted this essay on Facebook in December 2015. It’s a seasonal essay, about the so-called “War on Christmas.” But I think some of the points transcend that season, and apply to the church at any time of year. Either way, I thought it belonged on this blog, and I didn’t want to wait another eight months to post it here!
It’s the secular Christmas season again, so it’s time for me to start getting cranky at other Christians. Every year, I feel such anger and such bewilderment at my fellow followers of Christ, for the absurd and childish behavior that always comes from us this time of year. But now I think I have a theory about where that behavior comes from.
It’s because we’re doing a lousy job at telling the world the good news of Christ. We’re doing a lousy job of it, and that upsets us…the world isn’t responding to us the way we think it should, the way we think it might have done in the past. This is heartbreaking; we have such good news for all people, and they don’t seem to be listening. We can see it everywhere…worship attendance has fallen, congregations are closing, our voices as Christians are increasingly viewed as marginal or fringe. We don’t like this. It hurts.
Fair enough. And many of us have seen that something different is needed, something new; something has to change. Some have tried different ways to address this: different styles and times of worship; attempts to make the church more “relevant” or “contemporary.” Some of these ideas are helpful, others misguided, but again…fair enough. It’s worth a try. Full points for any church or individual who has tried to change the way we share the message. Effective or not, it’s a faithful try.
But there’s a dark side. There’s another way Christians have tried to make a change…demanding that others change for us. And this is not only unproductive and unhelpful, but frankly I believe it goes against the Christian faith. Here are some examples:
We are upset that worship and Sunday School attendance have dropped, so we blame sports. “They shouldn’t be allowed to have soccer practice on Sunday morning,” we say. You see, there was a time when nothing happened in America on Sunday mornings except church. And then, when we had no competition at all, we had good attendance. Now that other things are vying for people’s time, we find it harder. If Bob’s Hardware Store is the only game in town for years, and then suddenly finds that a Home Depot opens up five miles away, what does Bob do? Find ways to compete. Offer a certain kind of service you can’t get at Home Depot, offer sales, work on ways to deepen loyalty among its customers. Bob changes something to attract customers. But if Bob’s Hardware Store were a church? Well then, Bob would complain that it’s not fair that another hardware store moved in. He shouldn’t have to deal with competition. He shouldn’t have to change. Home Depot should just go away, because they ruined everything. We act as though it’s Home Depot’s responsibility to get customers in our door.
We blame schools. “Things were better when there was prayer in schools.” We say, “There’s a war against Christianity (or Christmas) because there are no longer nativity scenes on school property.” When did we give public schools the job of teaching our kids about God? What happened to Sunday School, confirmation class, other Christian education in the church? Sure, perhaps schools used to help with that. But why did we get so dependent on them? Who has the job of teaching people about Christ? We do! Not the schools. But we’re bad at it. We’re scared to do it. So instead of learning how to do it better, we whine and complain that others aren’t doing it for us anymore.
And of course at this time of year, we blame large corporations. We blame Best Buy, because they have the gall to use the word “Holiday” in December instead of “Christmas.” We blame Starbucks, because they have the audacity to offer blank red cups instead of cups with reindeer and snowflakes on them. We complain and complain and complain about the “commercialization of Christmas,” and yet when commercial interests try to back away from using our images and terms, we threaten boycotts. To me, this is the most distressing part of this whole phenomenon…
…Are we so bad at teaching people about the good news of Jesus, that we expect Starbucks to do it for us?
Come on. This is not only ludicrous and childish, but it is completely counterproductive. If our goal is to invite people to hear the good news of Christ that we have heard, then perhaps presenting ourselves as entitled cry-babies who want special treatment isn’t the best way to do it. If we have faith in God, if we have trust that God will take care of us, then why do we make so many demands that our culture coddle us? Why don’t we act on our faith, and show the world that we can take it! Throughout the New Testament, we hear about persecutions, and how the early church gracefully and faithfully walked through them. Stephen was martyred and prayed as it happened; Paul wasn’t happy unless he was in prison; Jesus himself walked straight to the cross. That is how we are called to deal with persecutions. And I’m not convinced that Christians are persecuted in 21st century America, anyway. Inconvenienced? Maybe. But I’m not sure those two words are synonyms.
So here’s my humble suggestion. This year, instead of demanding that America keep the Christ in Christmas, how about we Christians encourage each other to keep the “Mas” in Christmas. Remember what the suffix “-mas” means. It means “mass,” or “worship service with Holy Communion.” The word “Christmas” does not mean “birthday of Christ;” it means “feast day of Christ.” Christmas isn’t a birthday party, it’s a feast day, a holy day, a day on which the church gathers together to celebrate the birth of the one we believe is the Savior. It’s a time for the church to gather together and hear again the good news, and to share that good news in the form of bread and wine where Christ promised to be present. Instead of complaining that soccer leagues and retail stores and school boards aren’t keeping Christ in their places, let’s gather together in the place we know Christ is. Let’s hear the good news again. Let’s remember what this season is about. Let’s remember what the good news is about. And if you’ve forgotten, then come to church again this Christmas. Together, we’ll remember.