I need to say something: I am an ordained United Methodist Minister and the expression, “Keep the Christ in Christmas” troubles me greatly. Hear me out before you decide I’m going straight to Hell. I am frustrated by the knee-jerk response to Christmas (held by many in this country) that the Christian nature of the holiday is perpetually under attack from secularism. I simply don’t believe this proposition to be true. In fact, I’m going to go so far as to say, it’s a lie. It’s not happening. Indeed, I believe this sense of persecution is something invented by certain Christians in order to make the celebration of Christmas an ideological tool in America’s ongoing culture war. If we don’t question such statements and ask, “Do these assertions make sense?” we becoming complicit in the lie. In the end, we end up distorting the reality of Christmas by pretending to defend something which doesn’t need defending.
One of the central slogans in the “Christmas is always under attack” arsenal is the annual rallying cry to “Keep the Christ in Christmas”. I believe there are good reason for keeping the Christ out Christmas, especially Christmas as it exists in the United States. Christmas, as it is celebrated by most in this country, has little to do with the reality of celebrating the birth of Jesus. Though year after year, we try to make the church’s calendar fit and adapt to the secular season called Christmas. If we want to co-exist with a world that has been hijacked by money and consumerism, we can’t use fear and guilt to proclaim the wrongness of a world we’ve helped create. The world can spot a religious double standard a mile away. In many cases, the world knows more about Jesus than we realize. They know his attitude towards money, the poor, and service. They see good Christian folk shopping and buying into the consumerist ideal like everyone else. Then we proclaim, “Keep the Christ in Christmas”. The Christ we say we’re keeping doesn’t match the Christmas we seem bent on saving. Expressions such as, “Keep the Christ in Christmas” point to an inherent hypocrisy in how we see ourselves, the church, and relationship with Jesus. The good news is that we don’t have to speak or live that way. We can do and be better.
Our Christmas celebrations don’t realistically reflect Jesus’ character or the humble nature of his birth. There’s nothing in the original Christmas story about gifts, money, festivities, or excessive pomp. It’s the story of a simple, silent night in which a teenage girl gave birth to a child in a room normally reserved for animals. Humble doesn’t even begin to describe the circumstances of his birth or the life he would later lead. Jesus’ entrance into the world was the essence of humility. For someone who would change the world, on that night, the larger world had no idea about the events in Bethlehem. People in that region, in that place, were drawn to witness his humility. The shepherds, we are told, decided to go to Bethlehem. They encountered Jesus because they chose to go to Mary, Jesus, and Joseph.
Yet, when we post on our Facebook pages or put up signs which read, “Keep the Christ in Christmas”, what are we doing? Are we promoting religious choice? Do you believe we are reflecting the same humility embodied by Christ’s birth by telling others to “Keep the Christ is Christmas”? Instead of pointing to the humility of the manger and He who occupies it, we appear angry and resentful that people have forgotten that “Jesus is the reason for the Season”. Is this the time of year to let our faith be portrayed as one driven by anger and resentment?
By displaying these words, “Keep the Christ in Christmas”, we are saying that guilt, force, ridicule, and pomposity are the best paths for us to urge people to see the essence of Christmas. The infant Jesus had no signs, banners, or social networks to remind people to come and worship Him. He was powerless. Jesus was humble. Jesus never tried to be pushy or force others into recognizing who he was or what he came to do. Yet, when we use the statement, “Let’s Keep the Christ in Christmas”, we’re engaging in an activity completely at odds with Jesus’ life and ministry. What’s wrong with inviting people, in love, to embrace the Jesus of the Gospels? Why not keep the humility in Christmas by refraining from looking arrogant and self-righteous? The innocent child who we remember, would he have us remember slogans or the simplicity of that Silent Night?
I’m just fine with keeping the Christ out of Christmas. Given what I know about Jesus, I’m reasonably sure that “Let’s Keep the Christ in Christmas” wouldn’t be anywhere on his Facebook wall.