In your Christmas clearance shopping I suggest stocking up on a gift we evangelicals could give the world next Christmas: Drop the war on “the war on Christmas.” Lets stop trying to out-Grinch the Grinches.
In the children’s Christmas classic, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” the Grinch was a grouchy, cave-dwelling monster with a heart “two sizes too small.” From his lair on icy Mount Crumpit, the Grinch could hear the merry Who’s preparing for their Christmas festivities in Whoville below. Annoyed, the Grinch decides to stop Christmas from coming. He crudely disguises himself as Santa, and forces Max, his loyal but unloved dog, to drag his sleigh to Whoville, where he steals all of the Who’s Christmas presents, trees, and, as he disappears up the chimneys, even the log for their fires.
Yes, American culture does seem to be taking a hard turn from our Christian Christmas cultural assumptions…
With the “Starbucks war on Christmas” hoax, you might have missed the less spectacular but actual cultural squeeze:
-Brunei mandated jail time for Muslims celebrating Christmas but generously deciding that Christians could celebrate, as long as the decorations were not visible from the street.
–Australian schools outlawed carols. So did VA hospitals in the U.S.
–New Hampshire was added to the list of states whose public schools do not allow the word “Christmas” on printed material or in classrooms.
–A Brooklyn principal outlawed all references to Christmas, stars, and Santa because they might “represent a religious system.” (Santa is religious?)
And how have Christians responded? Grumpiness, lawsuits, and economic boycotts.
Imagine how different the Grinch that Stole Christmas might have been if Whoville had been populated by American evangelicals…
The people of Whoville were in quite a tizzy.
Nativities and carols gone awol, we’d better get busy.
Boycotting and arguing on the news shows,
expressing our outrage until our face glows.
Organizing alternate candidates to run.
And filing our lawsuits, crowdsourcing its’ fund.
The negativity and desperation are not very attractive. But, if we cannot remember the Bible’s encouragement to return good for evil, perhaps we can remember how the inhabitants of Whoville actually responded…
As dawn breaks on Mt. Crumpit, the Grinch is preparing to dump the town’s presents into the abyss. Listening for the Who’s bitter and sorrowful cries, the Grinch is puzzled to hear them, not lamenting, but singing joyful Christmas melodies. It dawns on him that, “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting. The Grinch’s shrunken heart suddenly grows three sizes larger, and the converted Grinch returns the Who’s presents and is warmly invited to the Who-feast, where he has the honor of carving the Roast Beast.
If only that were the strategy we would adopt!
We cannot fix internal spiritual issues with external political solutions.
Broken systems are the result of broken people. Our political and educational systems are merely windows into who we are as a people. In Phoenix we lived on a corner. And because of how our house was angled, our front window was a magnet that drew the eyes of everyone who drove down Northview Ave. One Advent season, after our impressive Christmas tree had been up several days, I was outside and noticed that I hadn’t put any ornaments on the back side of said tree. How embarrassing – our beautiful tree was grotesquely bare to the street. Now I could’ve painted the window to fake a well-decorated tree or I could pull the decoration boxes back out of the attic and stretch around and fix the tree. Friends, attempts at political solutions to the passing of Christmas from the public sphere is nothing more than painting a phony picture on the front window. The problem isn’t the window. It’s what’s inside. Americans are not celebrating Jesus on the inside. Looking “Christmas” on the outside does not fix that.
People fear the baby because they don’t know the baby.
Church attendance tells us that most Americans simply don’t know the baby as the king of the universe. That he existed before all things. That he was both God and human. That he is the one “by whose stripes we were healed.” That he would die in our stead, to forgive not just our grinchiness but all of our other sins. That Christ alone has the power to bring us peace with God. They don’t know that he left us His Spirit to live within us, his church to support us, and promised us eternity in his grace-filled presence. You need to know that story. You need to let it soak deep so deeply into your bones, to marinade in it so deeply, that God’s love leaks out of you every time you open your mouth…to become a walking song from Whoville wafting into the ears of the Grinches.
It is only the Gospel that makes the bitter joyful, that heals burned over hearts. That reminds us that from God’s forgiveness we offer others forgiveness. Our neighbors will never really see love in the crèche at city hall. They can only see it in you and I. It is God’s forgiveness that gets inside the windows. And the last thing anyone needs, especially today, is a painted on faith.
I had an old youth group kid once who was a pk. And as preacher’s kids go, he was a pretty good one. But he had a bizarre desire to “look more Christian.” He was obsessed with his external “testimony.” I told him, “Quit worrying about looking like a Christian. Just draw close to Jesus and others will see him.” Jesus always shines through the windows.
My encouragement for next Christmas: Return being grouchy and seeking political “wins” today. In your day after Christmas bargain hunting, stock up on the joy of introducing people to Jesus – the great miracle of God with us. Christmas is for giving because, after all, “God so loved the world that he gave…”