Ah, Christmas! The most wonderful time of the year. A time to gather with family and friends, and, with a smile on our faces, pretend we aren’t quietly measuring who received the best present and which relative really, really needs to stop drinking. A time to hang tinsel and baubles from the tree, and a time to hang up our hopes of losing that last 10 pounds this year. Such a joyous season!
The real point here is that Christmas is what we make of it. For Christians, however, there are some very specific things you can’t do if you want to actually honor and follow the person we celebrate this season. So, I give you my “10 Things You Can’t Do AT CHRISTMAS While Following Jesus.” As with my other “10 Things” lists, this is not intended to be a complete list, but it is a pretty good start.
10) Celebrate Consumeristmas — For many folks, Christmas starts standing in line on Thanksgiving Day. ’Tis the season for mass consumerism. Regardless of where you think it began, Christmas has slowly drifted into the bog of consumer madness. Like frogs in a pot of slowly boiling water, we never saw it coming. For Christians, this is particularly problematic because the guy we are celebrating this time of year told us that collecting stuff here on Earth is not the way to follow him.
9) Forget Those Without Food — Jesus once said that when we feed the hungry we are feeding him. Anyone want to guess what it means when we ignore the hungry? How about ignoring the hungry as we scrape the leftover Christmas ham from our plates into the trash? Maybe we need to change the name of the season to Gluttonousmas? Too many presents, too much food, too little consideration for those in need.
8) Forget Those Without Shelter — No room at the inn. One of the key moments in the story Christians celebrate is the moment when Jesus was almost born in the streets of Bethlehem. Our need to clean up the Christmas story assumes that the innkeeper told them to use the manger but the Bible says no such thing. There was no room at the inn, leaving Mary to place her newborn child in a smelly feeding trough. For that night they were without shelter. Throughout his life Jesus would spend his ministry with no place to lay his head. This time of year we celebrate a homeless man. Do our actions, do the places we place our money honor that?
7) Forget About Immigrants —We three kings from Orient are. Besides sounding like Yoda wrote a Christmas carol, there are a number of things messed up about that line. We don’t actually know how many there were. They were magi, not kings. We also do not know where they were really from other than “from the East.” What we do know is they were foreigners and their revelation of the real king’s plans to kill all newborn boys to put an end to Jesus turned Jesus’ family into immigrants in Egypt. Our Christmas story is replete with images of people journeying to new lands. Christmas should cause Christians to recommit to embracing immigrants.
6) Miss the Message About Resisting Abusive Power — Mary and Joseph and their family had to flee their homeland because King Herod strong-handedly used his power to squash out what he saw as a threat to his power. I can guarantee you two things; One, in the house where Jesus grew up, the narrative of why they had to flee to Egypt and of the senseless deaths imposed on other families by the powerful was a story that was told time and time again. Two, the focus on abuse of power in Jesus’ teaching and his constant willingness to confront it was no accident. Christmas should cause Christians to recommit to confronting those who abuse power.
5) Forget Those Without Presents — If you have two coats, give one away. In announcing the coming of Jesus, John the Baptist told us what God was asking of us. Coats were just an example – a placeholder if you will. If you have two Christmas presents, give one away.
4) Insist Your Religious Celebration Rule Them All — This time of year far too many Christians remind me of Gollum and his Precious. (A Lord of the Rings shout out in a Christian Christmas post! C’mon Peter Jackson, give me some promo love!) One holiday to rule them all: “We nee-eeds it. They stole it from us!” Never mind that Jesus was Jewish or that there is a list of other celebrations that occur this time of year, there’s a certain cultural privilege in the air that seems so very un-Christian to me. You can just about bet that the folks calling out for the dominance of Christmas would be singing a new song if Judaism were the dominant religious culture and this time of year radio stations across the land played Chanukah songs. Well, metaphorically they would be singing a new song — maybe a few even literally.
3) Get Mad About “Happy Holidays” — On a related note, you know what “holiday” is short for, right? Holy day. Do you really have a problem with people calling Christmas a holy day?
2) Think That It Is Actually Jesus’ Birthday — Um. So, dang, this is hard and I’m really sorry to be the one telling you. Um, let’s see. Remember how when you were growing up the Sunday school teacher told you it was Jesus’ birthday? Yeah. Well, um ... they lied. Yeah. Sorry about that. We don’t actually know when Jesus was born. It was probably in the spring or summer because “the shepherds watched their flocks by night” — something that definitely didn’t happen in the winter.
1) Confuse the Religious Observance With the Secular Holiday — It may be that Dec. 25 was picked as the date to celebrate Jesus’ birth to compete with or even to adopt the followers of the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, which included decorating with evergreens, gift giving and parties. (Hmmm, why does that seem so familiar?) I bring this up to make a simple point; A lot of our “War on Christmas” problems would rightfully go away if we simply acknowledged that there are two celebrations of Christmas each year. One is religious and one is not. Most of this article actually points to the issues that happen when we conflate them. So, let’s stop doing it.
Mark Sandlin currently serves as the minister at Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. He received his M. Div. from Wake Forest University's School of Divinity and has undergraduate degrees in Business Administration and English with a minor in Computer Science. He's an ordained minister in the PC(USA) and a self-described progressive.
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