Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Real War on Christmas

Across the United States, parking lots at department stores, malls and shopping plazas, were full of cars and retail outlets were teeming with people in search of bargains and big sales on Black Friday.  In fact, this year, the excitement surrounding the traditional day after Thanksgiving shop-a-thon was SO huge, some of the major retail outlets announced they'd be opening ON Thanksgiving Day, so that professional shoppers could hit the stores early and get the best deals on great big flat screen TVs and such.  We also have small business Saturday, and Cyber Monday for online shoppers.

And so, this is Christmas.

I'm always irritated when I hear self-righteous blowhards on Fox News carrying on about the so-called "War on Christmas."  Sanctimonious talking heads will bemoan the use of the phrase, "Happy Holidays" as an attempt to oppress Christians and not recognize that "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." (Forget the historical facts that indicate Jesus wasn't born close to the pagan holiday around the Winter Solstice where they are celebrating the return of the sun.)  They blame the atheists.  They blame the pagans.  They blame the Jews.  All the non-believers are involved in some pluralistic conspiracy to deny Christ, and destroy Christmas.

Now, let's go to that good Christian retailer Wal-Mart and buy some cheap stuff to put under that very Christian symbol of the Christmas tree.

If anyone has waged a war on Christmas, it's Christians who have put their faith in the God of More Stuff, and gave up offerings of their first fruits by being in line at Best Buy when the store opened for Black Friday. 

Those of us who are Episcopalians are familiar with a season that precedes Christmas.  It's called Advent, as in marking the time of the arrival of a major event, thing or person.  In the case of the Christian mythology, the arrival of Jesus, who is Emmanuel or "God with us," qualifies as a pretty significant event.  That is the season that we're entering into right now as we wait in anticipation for the day of Christmas, the birth of Christ.  We'll be lighting candles every week, adding a new one each Sunday, as we hear the stories and sing the hymns that remind us that we are welcoming into our world an amazing force that is both fully human and fully divine.  And, if we dare to draw near to this force, we may find ourselves changed in unexpected and wonderful ways as our own inner light burns brighter with having been in contact with this newborn king.

This is the awe and wonder of the season of Advent.  And so, as Episcopalians, I would expect us to have a little more give on the whole worldly noise about whether saying "Happy Holidays" denigrates Christ.  It really doesn't.  In fact, the time is a happy time as we wait for what this king may have in store for us and our lives.  It can be an uncomfortable time, too, for that very same reason!  As Episcopalians, I would expect us also to be the ones who recognize that even as the world turns on a dollar and a dime hawking all the things we don't really need, we would simply see it for what it is: the God of More Stuff, and not fall into that pit.

Most of all, I would hope that those of us marking Advent would pay attention to the words in our Sunday lectionary that call on us to stay awake, and be ready because we don't know the hour when the Son of Man is coming.  I take that as the charge to all of those worried about Christmas to ask the reflexive question: What am I doing to prepare for the arrival of Christ into the world?

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