Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fighting over Christmas and missing its meaning

I originally posted this to the now-defunct Examiner.com seven years ago today. The supposed "War on Christmas" debate continues to this day. Donald Trump declared recently that we are going to hear "Merry Christmas" in stores again. My thoughts on the subject are pretty much the same today as they were in 2009. Why are so many obsessed with political power instead of spreading goodwill?  

Blessed are the Peacemakers Wikimedia
You find it in Examiner.com articles, message boards, e-mails, and all over the blogosphere: “Don’t say ‘Happy Holidays,’ say 'Merry Christmas.’" We are being told that there is a “War on Christmas,” and it is implied that people are trying to undermine Christmas by using the generic phrase.

But using the phrase "Happy Holidays" does not necessarily mean the well-wisher is consciously avoiding the term "Christmas." The generic greeting is, first and foremost, shorthand for "Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." And when we talk about the "Holiday Season" in today's culture we are usually including Thanksgiving as well.

Not everyone who says "Happy Holidays" or "Holiday Season" has insidious motives, as some might have us to believe! This time of year good cashiers used to mix up their closing remarks to avoid sounding stilted: "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" or even "Have a great evening." But with the attitude of some today, retail workers are afraid to say "Happy Holidays" lest someone thinks they are heathen!

On the other hand, some of the nonsense from the other side of the issue is just ridiculous. Calling a Christmas tree a "Holiday tree" is just silly. One ad even went so far as to say that their item would cause joy when it was unwrapped on "Holiday morning." Come on. Have we really come that far in this culture that we are afraid to call things what they are lest we offend anyone?

In the 1960's and 70's the big deal was X-mas. Don't put X-mas on your store signs--that's blasphemy! That's X-ing Christ out of Christmas. Well, not exactly. Christians have been using "X" for Christ since the first century. The letter X looks exactly like the Greek letter Chi (pronounced khee), which is the first letter in Christos--Christ.

A ladies singing trio from the late 50's and early 60's, The White Sisters, sang a song titled "Keep Christ in Christmas." Whether the whole X-mas controversy "inspired" the song or not is unclear. Part of the song speaks about letting "Christ have first place" at this time of year. But it does not seem that Christ is having "first place" in most of the complaining about and campaigning against "Happy Holidays." When Conservative groups send out e-mail newsletters saying "Send us money because we’re getting Christmas back into the stores," is Christ getting first place? When the average person sees "Christmas Tree" instead of "Holiday Tree" is he more likely to think of the "true meaning of Christmas"? These questions should give the Christian pause.

Christmas is about giving, not winning. Christ himself was the first Christmas gift. If Christians spent their time giving themselves to feed the poor, visit the sick and generally spread goodwill among men, instead of organizing boycotts and sending threatening e-mails, wouldn't that better reflect what Christmas is all about?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Manger and the Swaddling Bands

The following was originally published on the now-defunct Examiner.com on December 22, 2009.
Modonna & Child Ambrogio Lorenzetti 1319 Wikimedia

Sweet little Jesus boy
They made you be born in a manger….

So begins a traditional Christmas song. In a few words which seem almost an afterthought, Luke 2:7 tells us why Jesus was placed in a manger: “because there was no room in the inn.”

Bethlehem was so crowded there was only room in a cattle trough for the Child. Much has been made of the five small words “no room in the inn,” and rightly so. These words picture what the Apostle John tells us in his Gospel.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1: 10-11 ESV)

Sweet little holy Child,
We didn't know who you was.

But there were two at the scene, Mary and Joseph, who did know who he was. They didn’t understand everything, but they had been told by God through his angels who the child was. They only had a manger to lay him in, but they received him.

Luke 2:7 tells us Jesus was placed in a manger. Why? Because there was no room. But what they did before they laid him there is significant.

Mary "wrapped Him in swaddling cloths." Swaddling cloths or bands were a tradition that had been handed down for centuries. When a child was born, its skin was rubbed with salt and oil, and cloths were wrapped around it. It was thought that this would also insure the child’s limbs would grow straight. In Ezekiel 16:4, a baby that had not been wrapped in cloths is used to describe an abandoned child.

With this in mind, note the paradoxical scene. Here is a baby in a cattle trough, probably cut into the wall of a cave used to shelter domestic animals – not the place you would normally find a baby. There is a horror in the sight of a child so treated.

But there are also the swaddling bands – an indication that the child was loved and cared for. Mary and Joseph made the only room they had available, and cared for the child as best they could. His own people had not received him, but Mary and Joseph did.

The scene of Jesus lying in a cave wrapped in swaddling bands is reminiscent of another scene – Jesus wrapped in grave cloths lying in a tomb. Again we have a picture of horror, and yet of the love which prepared the body for burial. It was another Joseph, the one from Arimathea, who had provided the tomb and had wrapped the body in linen.

The only room for Jesus according to those who rejected him was in the grave. He was there because the religious leaders of the day had no room for him. But even in his death there were those who cared.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12 ESV)

Do you have room for Jesus?