Christ, Christianity and Christmas
A column by John Brummett in Sunday's Review-Journal bears the provocative title "Taking Christ out of Christmas -- a sound idea."
It's an odd title for an odd argument. Most of what I read on the subject make a few basic points: "happy holidays" is more inclusive, it's more sensitive to the views of non-Christians, it encompasses other proximate holidays such as New Years and (snicker) Boxing Bay.
Brummet makes basically the same argument: "I hearken back to that childhood lesson each December as the Religious Right's modern-day bullies berate more strongly than the year before those who dare to extend best wishes for 'happy holidays' instead of 'merry Christmas,' either for accuracy or convenience or from sensitivity to persons of non-Christian beliefs."
If that were all he had to say, his column would be basically unproblematic. Unoriginal, but unproblematic. That's because these arguments aren't per se unreasonable -- it really doesn't make much sense to wish a Jewish person a Merry Christmas. But that's not his only argument, or even the primary argument.
"I was taught in my childhood church that Jesus' birthday really didn't matter all that much."
This, from a self-professed former member of the Religious Right. As noted above, it makes some sense to avoid wishing Jews and Hindus a Merry Christmas, but the logic underlying this conclusion collapses when applied to Christians, and that's exactly what Brummett is arguing: that Christians, in their private worship and celebration, should take Christ out of Christmas. The foundational premise for this jack-assery? That the really important part about Christ is his life, death and resurrection, not his birth.
Brummett's problem is that he implies that celebrating the birth of my Lord and Savior is somehow inconsisent with also celebrating his life, death and resurrection. As though it were impossible to do both.
The author never says what sect he was raised in, but whichever one it was, a sect that "taught that ... I should avoid any overtly religious connotation for Christmas..." is a bizarre one, indeed. This is a Christian minister telling his congregation to ignore Christ during the one season that most people are more inclined to reflect on His life and ministry? Uh, okay.
Again, the most important part of Christ's mortal mission was not at the beginning, but at the end. But if I find myself inclined to celebrate -- in an overtly religious fashion -- the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, I find myself in good company. [NOTE: Those of you who are offended by religious sentiment, you're welcome to ignore the rest of this post].
Isaiah 7:14 - "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
Isaiah 9:6 "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
Micah 5:2 - "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."
Matt. 1:20-21 - "But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins."
Matt. 2:1-2 - "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born the King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him."
Matt. 2:11 - "And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincence, and myrrh."
And, of course, from the second chapter of Luke:
"And there were in the same country sheperds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I give unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men."
If I am joined in celebrating the birth of my Lord and my God by ancient prophets, by wise men, by the humble sheperds, and by the very angels of the Lord, who descended to earth to shout praises of exultation, I don't mind that company at all.
So to my Christian friends, Merry Christmas. To my non-Christian friends, Happy Holidays, and may the spirit of this season give you joy and rejoicing.