Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Keep 'Christ' in Christmas"

From Jurgen Moltmann's The Crucified God:
Faith is fearful and defensive when it begins to die inwardly, struggling to maintain itself and reaching out for security and guarantees.  In so doing, it removes itself from the hand of the one who has promised to maintain it, and its own manipulations bring it to ruin.  This pusillanimous faith usually occurs in the form of an orthodoxy which feels threatened and is therefore more rigid than ever.  It occurs wherever, in the face of the immorality of the present age, the gospel of creative love for the abandoned is replaced by the law of what is supposed to be Christian morality, and by penal law.  He who is of little faith looks for support and protection for his faith, because it is preyed upon by fear.  Such a faith tries to protect its 'most sacred things', God, Christ, doctrine and morality, because it clearly no longer believes that these are sufficiently powerful to maintain themselves.
I was on Facebook this morning, and found that one of my friends had joined a group called "Keep Christ in Christmas."  Actually, it wasn't just a group, it was a "Cause," which is a specially designated function whereby you can donate money online.  This function is usually reserved for pithy things such as starving children in Africa, support for people with AIDS, cancer research...but now someone has finally started a cause for something truly important: ensuring that that gaudy plastic nativity scene in the town square stays right where it is.

Actually, to their credit, anything donated goes to a homeless shelter, which is more in keeping Christ in Christmas than any amount of lobbying and politicking.  Still, one wonders why a group wouldn't be sufficient for this issue.

Many Christians go through the same song and dance every December.  We point to things such as the removal of public religiously-specific decorations (or, horror of horrors, nativity scenes placed alongside menorahs), the admonition to say "Happy Holidays," the removal of Christian carols from school pageants and so on as signs of society refusing to acknowledge that Christmas is foremost a Christian holiday.  Actually, the cause mentioned above blames the liberal government.  We haven't been able to do that in a while, have we?

It's strange how far we've come, really.  Here we have a holiday celebrating Jesus, who was born in a barn to peasants with absolutely no government inroads or privileges and who died at the hands of religious and civil authority, and 2000 years later his followers want government to keep Christmas specifically about Jesus as much as possible.

The Moltmann quote above points to part of the problem.  How much faith do Christians really have if they always seek the seat of high honor at society's table; when we want the state to constantly recognize Christianity in some special way.  In the meantime, how much justice, mercy and humility are we exhibiting?  How are Christians living out their faith apart from all the petitions and letters to the editor and Facebook causes to persuade elected officials to do this, that, or the other thing?

It's somewhat of a coincidence that I type this the day after Black Friday.  People were out in gobs hoarding gifts either for themselves or for others...the worship of materialism and consumerism as plain as day.  Couple this with the "controversy" surrounding the removal of Christ from Christmas, and believers have two options:

1. Keep lobbying, politicking, writing angry letters, joining "causes," all in the name of trying to reform a holiday that in the wider culture admittedly has spiraled out of control, or 

2. Fess up to the reality that there are two Christmases: the civil, which features both the tragedy of consumerism and the progressive hope of pluralism, and the religious, which features all the nativity scenes, carols, and Christian symbols that you could ever want.  The latter, thanks to our Constitution, is still celebrated in thousands of churches and millions of private homes across America without any government interference.

The latter also keeps more with Jesus' humble life than this yearly competition to see who can shout the other down the loudest.

Let Caesar have what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's.

Merry Christmas.