Every year, like clockwork, some Christian wakes up on the wrong side of the bed to announce that the War on Christmas is here again. FOX News has been yelping about the War on Christmas since October, looking for demons in the Starbucks Christmas cup. These Christians could use a lesson from the Grinch: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come in a store.”
I want to set the record straight. There is no War on Christmas. Not even a skirmish. Not even a spat. If the War on Christmas were a tropical wave it would not register as a tropical depression. It would lap ashore in south Louisiana without a whimper. The War on Christmas is an imaginary moment in the minds of Christians who can’t have a season without being mad about something. Yet 40% of Americans believe there is a War on Christmas, but I’d rather have Christmas in Whoville than with the War on Christmas gang.
Leaving Christ out of Christmas makes no lexical sense. Look at the word. What are the first six letters? “Christ.” Even if you leave “Christ” out there’s still “mas.” That means “mass”. At “mass” people worship Christ. And this business about Xmas – I’m sure you know that X is the Greek letter for chi and the initial for Christ. It’s a Christmas symbol. If Jesus signed his initials, it would be JX. Forget the War on Christmas and have yourself a merry, merry, merry Christmas.
It’s Christmas and no Scrooge-headed Christian is going to make me think there’s a War on Christmas. Besides, Christ has never missed a single Christmas. There’s the celebration of Christmas and I’m taking part in all of it. With Harry Connick Jr. I will sing, “All I want for Christmas is a happy ho, ho, ho.” With the saints gathered on Christmas Eve, I will sing, “Silent Night, holy night, all is calm. All is bright.” I’ll buy presents and I’ll attend Advent services.
I don’t get any of this mixed up. There’s secular stuff that is just plain fun and there are Christian practices that are joyful and necessary for Christmas. I will read the Christmas story on Christmas Eve and read “The Cajun Night Before Christmas.”
As we conclude Advent, we should forego all the whining about the War on Christmas and unleash a magnificent supply of Christmas practices that bear witness to the presence of Jesus in Christian lives. For example, offer excessive hospitality to strangers. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we read, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Not only are angels attracted to hospitality. God shows up when there is hospitality.
Why? Hospitality names another word for holiness, as Ellen Davis says, holiness “is hospitality toward God, living in such a way that God may feel at home in our midst.” Hospitality refuses to lord it over others. It never thinks more highly of itself than it ought. It never insists on its own way. Hospitality says “Happy Holidays” to non-Christian friends with a smile.
Scattered all over the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, like a surplus crop of grain, there are practices that speak of real Christmas actions. “Seek good and not evil” (Amos 5:14). “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 4:14). “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
A litany of Christmas practices congregate in Romans 12: “Let love be genuine; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Instead of being “very displeased” and “angry” while sitting under a gourd bush like Jonah, perhaps our own understanding of the faith can rise from deep within shriveled hearts: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Christians harping about a War on Christmas come across as tragic as Jonah unhappy at the conversion of an entire city.
This is Christianity 101. It does not get more basic than this. But somehow millions of Christians seem to have missed the lectures on Christian practices. Perhaps they have been seduced by the narcissism of “straining at gnats and swallowing camels.”
As for me, when there’s no manger in the mall, I will not have a snit fit. After all, Jesus, born in a borrowed crib, wouldn’t go near a mall, and if he did, he wouldn’t get any sleep in the citadel of American idolatry. I will not show up at city hall when there’s no Jesus float in the annual Christmas parade. When my grandchildren’s school choir doesn’t sing, “Away in the Manger,” there will be no nasty email to the principal.
The War on Christmas? Bah! Humbug! No way! “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, New York. His sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – is now out from Wipf and Stock (Cascades).