Peace on Earth

I get quite frustrated when beautiful things are distorted to become ugly.  I am saddened when a great idea goes South.  It breaks my heart when someone with a beautiful appearance speaks hateful words and suddenly becomes less attractive.

I am agitated when my faith, one that should be characterized with love, becomes something different than what it is purposed to be.

I do not like what Christmas has become.

Now perhaps many of you who are reading this blog think that I am going to go on a tangent regarding the supposed “war on Christmas” and discuss how atheists and secularists and pagans are trying to destroy my favorite holiday.

Not so.

I think many people have caused this season to be characterized as something it is not.  And a great deal of those people profess to be Christians and feel that Christmas is solely about Christ.  It’s one of those instances where we say one thing and act in a completely contradictory manner.

I have a few concerns to cover, so I apologize in advance if this post seems all over the place.  I have a lot on my mind this lazy December morning.

First, I’ll pose a situation to you.  It’s a few days after Thanksgiving.  You’ve thrown out the pumpkins from your front lawn and decide it’s time to start your Christmas shopping.  You only have about a month to prepare, after all, and the kids are already writing out long lists of all the new games and toys and electronics they just HAVE to have under the tree this year.  You make your way to the mall, and already you notice how heavy traffic is.  It’s going to take a little longer than you thought, but you just need to get this done today.  You walk into the store, fill your cart, and make your way to the check-out line.  After a ten minute wait, it is finally your chance to make your purchase and skedaddle on out of there.  It is then that the sweet teenage clerk makes her fatal mistake.  She isn’t sure of your background, and doesn’t have any intention of offending you.  So, she smiles sweetly and says “Happy Holidays!”  It is at this point you get annoyed and frown, and when you get home you call up a friend and angrily discuss how much you hate that people are trying to take Christ out of Christmas.

I’m not trying to be judgmental, but I am trying to make a point.  I would venture to say this is a common occurrence.  And you feel that your anger is righteous anger because you think you are defending the faith.  I wonder, though, if you aren’t doing more damage to the faith.  During your shopping excursion, did you once think about Christ or His teachings?  Maybe.  Or maybe you were just trying to find the best deal on an Xbox 360.

I do not get offended when I am wished Happy Holidays rather than a Merry Christmas.  I do not see how it is logically possible to be offended by someone wishing you a good day.  If you are offended by a friendly greeting, one has to wonder if there is something not quite right about your thought process.

Most people, when greeting you in any way, are not doing it to ruffle your feathers.  They are being polite.  It isn’t the words themselves that matter, but the meaning behind them.  I love words.  I do.  But, the only reason we have words is because we need a way in which to convey meaning.  The meaning of “Happy Holidays” is not “I hate your Christmas and your Christ!”  The meaning of “Happy Holidays” is just that; someone is wishing you well.  And we take offense to this?  Come on.

Maybe you agree with me, or maybe you are still upset and wishing that everyone felt the same way about Jesus as you do.  I can get behind that.  I think it would be great if everyone believed in God and wanted to follow Him.  The thing is, that doesn’t happen magically.  We are His hands and feet.  We are supposed to lead those people to Him; not spew hatred at them and show them everything but His love.  Our words are just as powerful as anyone else’s.

Speaking of words, let’s look at the meaning of the word holiday.  It is true, you can’t spell the word Christmas without Christ.  Does anyone know the etymology of the word holiday?  Bueller?  Well, let me break it down for you:

holiday
1500s, earlier haliday (c.1200), from O.E. haligdæg “holy day; Sabbath,” from halig “holy” (see holy) + dæg “day” (see day); in 14c. meaning both “religious festival” and “day of recreation,” but pronunciation and sense diverged 16c. As a verb meaning “to pass the holidays” by 1869.

from http://www.etymonline.com

Holy day.  Sabbath.  Religious festival.  So, technically, we get up in arms because someone is wishing us happy holy days and we think they are attacking our faith.  Seems pretty illogical to me.

I also want to remind all of us that Christmas Day is December 25th.  Not November 30th.  Not even December 24th.  December 25th is Christmas Day.  Then we have the 12 Days of Christmastide.  Those twelve days do not start before Christmas.  We have Advent, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  This year, Chanukah started Tuesday the 20th at sundown, and is going on now.  December 31st is New Year’s Eve.  And, then of course we have New Year’s Day where we will begin the year 2012.  It seems to be that the time right before and after Christmas Day is marked by holiday celebrations.  I am not discounting Jesus if I say Happy Holidays today, December the 23rd.  It isn’t Christmas.  I am not rejecting my faith if I wish my Jewish brothers and sisters a Happy Chanukah.  I’m not going to hell if I spin a dreidel and eat gelt with my preschoolers.

Following Jesus for me has always been about my actions, not the thoughts and actions of others.  My job is to love Him, love others, and show that love as best I can.  Instead of getting up in arms because public places aren’t putting up a nativity scene or are calling their decorated trees holiday trees, we should just hold fast to our traditions regarding the faith.  Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season.  Jesus is the reason for EVERY season when you’re a Christian.  I celebrate his birth, his life, his death and his resurrection everyday as much as I can.  That is how I can keep the faith.  Not by getting perturbed that others don’t share my beliefs.

I say Merry Christmas on Christmas Day because I want others to have a happy day, Christian and non-Christian alike.  If I say it solely as an attack because someone had the nerve to wish me a Happy Holiday, then I am not wishing them well from my heart.  It is the heart that matters.  Christ taught me that.

He came to love everyone.  Everyone.  Even those who despised Him.

Even those who despised Him.

Do we do the same?  Love unconditionally?

Another aspect of the Christmas season I have a difficult time with is the focus on shopping.  From Black Friday on we are encouraged to go out and buy.  There are many sales and Christmas is coming fast!  Spend, spend, spend!  I am not going to take up too much time on this issue, as I feel like it ties in rather well with my last post about The American Dream.

I like spending time with family.  I also love to give gifts.  Gift giving is one of my love languages.  I enjoy giving people cards just to say “I Love You”.  I get a kick when I wrap up something I know a friend or relative will enjoy.  I am thrilled when I see the look of happiness and gratitude on their face.

My gift giving has nothing to do with materialism, however.  I like to give gifts from my heart.  I like that we celebrate the birth of Christ, our greatest gift, by sharing gifts with others.

I don’t, however, like that the gifts themselves have become the focus.  That we feel the need to spend so much money on so many things that aren’t really needed.  I feel blessed when someone thinks of me and gets me a gift.  I don’t feel special, however, when someone buys me a bunch of things I neither really want or need just because they feel obligated to do so during this season.

I don’t feel led to operate in a consumer mindset and buy things for those who already have so much and are blessed to live in a country in which most of us do not understand what need really is.  I do not want gifts to distract us from teachings of the gospel.  I want to celebrate my time with family and show them I love them; not feel obligated to buy them a bunch of stuff.  I don’t want anyone to feel guilt-tripped into purchasing things because they are afraid if they don’t do enough someone will be offended.

I appreciate when people think of me and buy me gifts.  Honestly, I don’t need much.  I want to feel happy, peaceful and charitable at Christmas.  I want to celebrate Advent, to watch and wait for Christ; not run around like a chicken with my head cut off hoping to get the best gifts.

When I have children, I want to teach them about Christ: his birth, his life, his sacrifice for all of us.  I want my celebration to be giving Him a gift for the day we celebrate His birth – the gift of loving others and focusing on what is truly important.

Consumerism does not glorify Christ.  If we want to put Christ back into Christmas, maybe we should start acting like He matters.  That love and charity matter.

All this being said, I do believe that there are people in this world who have a bone to pick with Christianity and are trying to attack everything that we stand for.  There are Christians all over the world who are truly being persecuted.  While our society has viewpoints that I feel go against the tenants of my faith, we at least have the freedom to gather to worship.  That is something to be thankful for.  We have the freedom to love other people.  We have the freedom to wish happy and healthy days to all, whether we consider them holy or not.

I want to end this post with the story of Christ’s birth from the Gospel of Luke:

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.  So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.  Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

–Luke 2:1-20
New King James Version (NKJV)

Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.  That is how I want my Christmas characterized.