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"War on Christmas"



Today I want to write about "the war on Christmas."  

Except I'm not referring to what you may think: the perceived hostility to the celebration of Christmas that some hyper-ventilating news commentators and others get all worked up about - the way Christians are supposedly being persecuted because people say "happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" and that nativity scenes aren't being permitted on public grounds and religious-themed Christmas carols are no longer being sung in public schools.

No, those developments don't bother me: despite the histrionics, we Christians in this country at this time are not being persecuted (or even very much inconvenienced) as we practice our faith; we're simply being reminded that we live in a pluralistic, richly diverse nation (which, by the way, from our very constitutional origins has wisely held "freedom of religion" in tension with opposing any attempt to establish any official state religion - for the benefit of everyone, believers or not.)

No, that's not the "war on Christmas" I'm referring to.

And I'm not referring to the "commercialization of Christmas," either. Granted, our culture has, in the last fifty years, turned a simple, Thanksgiving-like holiday into a two-month-long orgy of consumerism. And yes, I find it ironic that we spend billions of dollars to wish one another a Merry Christmas, supposedly celebrating the birth of one born in a manger to poor parents - and who spent much of his adult life warning us about the lure of wealth and love of riches.

But no, that's not the "war on Christmas" that bothers me.

The "war on Christmas" that bothers me is a far more insidious one. It's a theological war, with spiritual and psychological aspects.  

The "war on Christmas" that I'm referring to is the way that Christmas has become, for many people and in the eyes of our culture, about rewarding good behavior...about deservedness...about earning affection.

It seems innocent enough: "Have you been a good little boy or girl this year?" we ask in high-pitched tones to worried children.

But think about it. Over and over again this time of year, we are inadvertently (or worse, quite deliberately!) reinforcing their image that good behavior brings "gifts," and bad behavior doesn't.

People! The whole idea of a gift is that it is freely given. A "gift" that is given in return for good behavior is not a gift.

The word for "gifts' given for good behavior is "rewards." Or even more accurately, "payment for services rendered."

Stop it. Stop it right now.

I thank God that this theologically obscene "elf-on-the-shelf" trend wasn't around when our kids were little.

Besides being psychologically creepy ("taking in all the daily activities around the house," we're told, "the elf makes his daily report to Santa,") (YOU. ARE. BEING. WATCHED.), "elf-on-the-shelf" is about as bad a theology around Christmastime as you can get: if there is one thing Christmas is NOT about, it's NOT about who is on who's "nice" or "naughty" list.

Yes, there's a war on Christmas. Its battle cry is "You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry, you'd better not pout, I'm telling you why."

Mary and I are not perfect parents, and I'm not a perfect husband, and so I know of no sure way of raising psychologically healthy children or sure way of having a psychologically healthy marriage.

But (to paraphrase my mentor William C. Placher), I do know one sure way to screw up your children and your marriage. It's really quite simple. All you have to do is make your love - your affection, your gifts - conditional. Just let them know that IF they do X, Y, or Z, you will love them, and if they don't, you will not.

That's not how God loves us. And that's not how we are called to love one another.

God's gifts of love - and the gifts we give each other - are just that: gifts, freely given...undeserved...and without condition.

Remember: Jesus was NOT born in the Ritz-Carlton of his day: in fact, there was no room for him in that Inn.

"Those who are well have no need of a physician," he said.

The Light shines in the darkness...not where there is already plenty of light.   


"Long lay the world in sin and error pining/
 Til' he stepped in, and the soul felt its worth."

 
That first Christmas, God did not need a clean, well-swept place to be born into.

And this Christmas, God doesn't need it either: 

a messy, smelly, more-often-naughty-than-nice heart like mine and yours will do just fine.

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