It is the end of November and we all know what that means: it is time for War.
Yes, every year at this time of year we are reminded that we are supposed to be at war. It is called the War on Christmas and we are apparently all conscripted as foot soldiers.
The first shots of this year’s battle have already been fired. The skirmish was fought over the holiday season cups at Starbucks. A few Christians took offence because the plain red and green cups being filled by the iconic café this year don’t have any explicit Christmasy words or symbols on them. But we all recognize that that is only the beginning and there will be many more fights to come. What will be next? Will we have to take offence at someone who says Happy Holidays? Will we need to be appalled by a lack of mangers in public squares? Where will it end?
I’ve got to say that in this particular war, I am pretty much ready to declare myself a conscientious objector. I’m not sure I want to fight it anymore – at least, not if it is a battle between the Christian idea of Christmas and our secular society’s idea of Christmas.
The fact of the matter is that I love both Christmases. I love the church’s Christmas with our focus of the story of the birth of the messiah, the candles, the sacred carols and prayers for peace on earth and good will to all. But I also love the secular Christmas that surrounds us with its lights and colourful decorations, the Christmas songs and the hustle and bustle of the malls. I will admit that I do get very tired of the materialism that seems evident everywhere you look, but I am not entirely certain whether the extreme consumerism belongs to the sacred or secular side of Christmas. After all, so many of the battles seem to be fought over what greetings are given to shoppers in stores.
I also happen to love the fact that I live in a multicultural society where people celebrate both Christmas and other religious and cultural festivals at this time of the year. There is a wonderful richness amid such diversity.
And so I really don’t want to think about what happens at this time of year as a war. I’d like to call for an armistice from our point of view at least.
And so this is what I’m going to do. Rather than going to the Bible first, this year I’m going to start my Advent sermons with the sacred texts of the secular Christmas. When I was growing up, there were four canonical Christmas stories that we had to hear every year. They were: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch stole Christmas. When I was growing up at least, Christmas just wasn’t Christmas unless you gathered together with your family and tuned your television to the CBC for every single one of these classic stories. So I am going to explore the meaning behind these classic stories.
This is not something that I would normally do. I have not been trained to seek inspiration in the secular stories of society but exclusively in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. I have long found that they are all I need. But somehow I am not too worried. Yes, there are perhaps some stories that are told by the world around us that we need to be wary of – that might lead us down a wrong path. But my sense is that we may just discover that, even if the people who wrote these great Christmas stories set out to be completely secular and to avoid all mention of the gospel Christmas story, there is something that would not allow them to stray too far from the ultimate Christmas message. My expectation is that there is a lot of truth—gospel truth—in these stories and I am going to find that they lead me back to Bible before I’m done.
And, perhaps by finding the gospel truth in these secular Christmas stories, we might find a way to bring peace between warring factions at this most blessed time of the year.
Peace on Earth, Good Will to All!