Christmas Commentary by Bruce Ray, Pastor
There is a war on Christmas, but it’s not the one you think. Sure, there are the annual lawsuits over nativities on public property or the public school bans on Christmas Carols or the battles over greetings (do you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?) But these skirmishes are not the real war on Christmas. The real war on Christmas is a war on the values and principles of Christ.
The announcement of the birth of Christ is an announcement of seismic change in the order of things. In the context of Empire, Caesar Augustus, Syrian Governor Quirinius and King Herod, a new leader is born in the city of David—A Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. Christmas is the birth of hope in the midst of oppressive circumstances where the poor are subjugated, ethnic minorities are forced from their homes to register with the government, and there is the constant threat of the sword for those who do not comply. Christmas is the flicker of the light of God’s kingdom dawning after an eon of darkness. Christmas is a statement of God’s return to the world to bring deliverance. The birth of Christ threatens the status quo because Christ is the One who ushers in God’s kingdom—the kingdom where no one is homeless or hungry; where no one is sick or poor; where there is no division between male and female or slave and free; where strangers are welcomed and prisoners are set free; where wars are a thing of the past and violence ceases. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.”
Which brings me to the War on Christmas. If Christmas represents a transformed order in the world and threatens the status quo, then those who benefit from the status quo will fight it and seek to stop it. The war on Christmas is a war against compassion and justice for the poor. It is a war against the common good. It is a war against the very things the kingdom promises. And it is waged in order to maintain the status quo where the few benefit at the expense of the many.
I see the war on Christmas in the reduction of SNAP benefits to millions of families, maintaining the status quo of hunger. I see the war on Christmas in the fight against the Affordable Care Act, maintaining the status quo of sickness. I see the war on Christmas in the systematic destruction of Public Housing in Chicago, maintaining the status quo of housing insecurity and homelessness. I see the war on Christmas in the battles against raising the minimum wage, maintaining the status quo of poverty. I see the war on Christmas in “get tough on crime” policies that incarcerate Americans at unprecedented rates and in the denial of basic rights to those who have been imprisoned and “paid their debt to society.” I see the war on Christmas in the break up of families through deportation and the unwillingness to fix a broken immigration policy. I see the war on Christmas in the continued drumbeats of those who call for the use of lethal force and war to bring peace to the earth.
Will Christmas be defeated? Sometimes, it would seem that way. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in the midst of the Civil War—a war fought over the status quo of slavery,
I heard the bells on Christmas Day, Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till, ringing singing, on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Christmas will not be defeated! Christ the Savior is born. Not even Jesus’ death could stop the advance of the Kingdom of God. And the resurrection reminds us that the Kingdom will continue to advance until every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord. In spite of the battles that are waged to preserve the status quo, God is not dead, nor doth he sleep. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! Light will prevail over this current darkness. Like a tiny bit of yeast worked into the dough of a Christmas Stollen, the kingdom of heaven will produce transformation in the world.
Christmas is not a time to get into the holy huddle or to hide in pious isolation. It is time to shout with Mary: “The Mighty One has done great things!” It is time to shout with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest! Shalom on earth.” It is time to shout with the prophets: “To us a child is born; to us a son is given! And of his government and of peace there will be no end!” It is time to shout with the saints of the past and present: “Joy to the world! The Lord is Come!” It is time to go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born. It is time to march in the light of God.
It is time to remember, in the words of Maltbie Babcock’s great hymn, “This is my father’s world, O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my father’s world, the battle is not done! Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.”
So Rejoice. Celebrate. Give Gifts. Sing and Dance. Shout. “Emmanuel! God IS with us!”