Ah — I LOVE this time of the year!
Some people wait with bated breath for duck season, some for deer season, but for me it is all about Christmas season. That's right, I'm one of those lefty liberals that have declared a War on Christmas. Yes! Sign me up for the War on Christmas!
But maybe not for the reasons you might imagine.
While I am signing up to help in a War on Christmas, I'm not on, what by default gets called, the “non-Christian” side. I’m also not signing up for the side that news pundits falsely purport as the “Christian” side. If anything, I’d make the argument that the dominant face of Christianity, as it is seen on television and promoted through news programming, is itself far from what Christianity is supposed to be. It is a sort-of white-washed, sanitized version of Christianity that every year presents an increasingly cleaned up version of the Christmas story to the viewing public.
You see, the baby we remember this time of year was not part of the dominant culture the way the religion he started now is. The religious stories that were told in those days were told under the shadow of the dominant culture. They were stories of oppression and hardships, stories of overcoming unthinkable odds, stories of hope for a people living in times and cultural positions that, quite frankly felt hopeless.
But today, our stories are told from places and positions of power. Today, Christianity is the dominant culture. So, instead of story of a olive skinned middle-eastern, unwed, pregnant mother, who was seen as little more than property, giving birth to what the world would surely see as an illegitimate child who was wrapped in what rags they could find and placed in a smelly, flea-infested feeding trough in the midst of a dark musky smelling animal stall, we end up with a clean, white-skinned European woman giving birth to a glowing baby wrapped in impossibly white swaddling clothes and laid to rest in a manger that looks more like a crib than a trough in the midst of a barn that is more kept and clean than many of our houses.
So, “War on Christmas?” Sure, sign me up. I'm pretty sure I'd prefer the elimination of what our modern “celebration” has become to the increasingly white-washed version we hear every year.
The Christmas story has been hijacked by a dominant culture. Places of power and positions of prestige have warped the comeuppance sensibilities of the original Christmas story. God’s vision of liberating the oppressed, the downtrodden, has been slowly replaced year after year with a story that no longer brings fear to the Powers that Be, but rather supports the big business agendas of profit and mass consumerism.
“War On Christmas?” Come to think of it, they’re right. There is a “War On Christmas,” but the war is actually waged by many of the very people who think Christmas is getting squeezed out of our culture in the name of plurality and other religions. If the Christmas they support wins, I for one, would have to say all is lost. So yes, there is a “War on Christmas,” and we Christians have been supporting it. If the present day, white-washed version of Christmas continues to be the dominant version, then I believe a great darkness will smother us in a sea of privilege and perverse oblivion to the struggle of those most in need — the oppressed, the downtrodden.
If the Christmas Present with it's full-on worship of consumerism continues to masquerade as Christmas Past, our Christmas Futures will increasingly become times when we give out of our abundance rather than out of a response to need and out of a response to God’s love. They will be the kinds of Christmases in which we give to those who already have abundantly while the oppressed, the downtrodden, watch our overindulgence and rightfully judge us by actions which run contrary to our words of a child born to bring light into the dark corners of the world.
Isaiah 9:2 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” That should be the dominant message of the Christmas narrative. Is it? Does the way we celebrate Christmas bring light into the darkness? Does it bring hope to the hopeless? Does our modern-day Christmas celebration bring justice to those who have been treated unjustly?
If your answer is “no” then, whether you knew it or not, you too believe that the Christmas Past has been white-washed by the Christmas Present.
During this season, as we remember not only the birth of the light of the world, a child sent to enlighten the darkness, we also remember his words: “No greater love has anyone than this, that they lay down their life for a friend.” As we remember the humble, unassuming way he came into this world, let us not forget that he left this world among thieves, as outsider hanging on a cross in an attempt to teach us something about God’s love.
A child born in a manger, no crib for his head, who was sent into this world to teach us something about the value of every human soul, sent in as the least-of-these, born to a poor woman in a borrowed animal stall, sent to teach us that “the least of these” is simply a human construct created by the insiders to define themselves over and against people they see as somehow less than themselves, sent to show us what a life looks like when it starts from the assumption that all people are worthy of God’s love.
This Christmas I wish for you and for me is light in the darkness of the Christmas Present. I wish for us enlightenment from God. I wish for us an enlightenment that helps us see clearly the love for all people that laid in a manger some 2,000 years ago; an enlightenment that encourages us to be a light to those trapped in the darkness of hunger, homelessness, oppression, poverty and war. I wish for us an enlightenment that allows us to see we too have darkness in our lives, an enlightenment that helps us see beyond the cleaned up Christmas of the present to the humble, unassuming beginnings of our religion: a baby King, born to an outsider, born to save the world from darkness.
War on Christmas? A war on what Christmas has become? A war on worshiping consumerism in the sacred halls of Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy while the world is swallowed up in the darkness of not having enough food to eat, a place to live, clean water to drink, access to reasonable health care? Sign me up, because I refuse to let the story of my faith be co-opted by corporations who only wish to convince us that we are privileged and we do deserve what we have more than other and we should revel in our abundance even as we celebrate the birth of the child who laid in a feeding trough, who lived his life with no place to lay his head, who told us that “just as you do it unto the least of these so to you do it unto me, a child who gave up his very life that we might understand what true love looks like.
War on Christmas? Indeed. Where do I sign up?
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.
Photo: Nativity Scene, ©