Over the past several years we’ve heard of numerous attempts to edge Christ out of Christmas. Some places simply shift to Santa and Snow. More recently the push has been to do away with the word altogether, settling for Winter Holidays.
While we may not be familiar with the secularization thesis from sociology, we see indications that it is at work. We even suspect that the secularization we see in our culture is not merely the inevitable consequences of urbanization, individualism and rationalism, but are the deliberate efforts of secularists – people who want to do away with God in public. (Christian Smith’s The Secular Revolution is a good place to start for more details.)
While “Happy Holidays” seems innocuous, we miss “Merry Christmas.” When we hear of retailers banning the “C-word,” we feel like we should throw it back at them. “Merry Christmas!” is what our mouths say (or growl), but sometimes our hearts are saying “Bah Humbug at your trying to dump Jesus.” If we’re going to say “Bah Humbug” about anything, it would seem that dumping Jesus would be an appropriate target.
But maybe we can look at little closer. Perhaps what we’re seeing in the retail sector is not the taking of Christ out of Christmas, but the removal of Christ from Consumerism. While the history of Christmas is rooted in Jesus – it’s his birthday, after all, the history of our celebration of Christmas is just as rooted in 19th century American culture. Retailers need to sell things – that’s how they make their living. If they’re going to sell more things, they need to create more occasions for people to buy things, even, perhaps, things they don’t actually need. I don’t know if anyone actually reasoned it out: “Jesus is all about giving. You can’t give what you don’t have. So buying is the other side of giving.” In the last couple of decades the link between Christ and Consumerism has grown to the point that “Shopping Days Until Christmas” has replaced Advent as the time of preparation. Instead of beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, this season begins with Black Friday.
Recently, however, two forces – political correctness and the expansion of “Shopping Days Until Christmas” back to Halloween or before – have served to make Christ less useful as a marketing tool. Since Jesus isn’t about marketing – about selling and acquiring stuff – maybe we can look at taking Christ out of Consumerism as a good thing.
So what about “Merry Christmas?” Ought we to say it? If your desire is to spread merriment and cheer – and even a little bit of Jesus – then wherever you think it might be received, offer it. Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, when we were not at all inclined to find any joy in God, God was already taking joy in us and inviting us to turn to him. So try loving those Bah Humbuggers into Jesus style merriment this Christmas.