Every year, about this time, we hear about the war on Christmas. Nativity scenes taken out of court house lawns. Christmas carols removed from government school music programs. Store clerks saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.
The solution to this problem, we are told, is to raise our voices, vote with our wallets, and put public pressure on stores and local governments. We are invited to do that in the hope that cherished religious symbols can take their place in our culture’s Christmas celebration once again.
That solution may prove effective.
Yet I wonder, if that solution is to a problem that isn’t the real problem?
In my view, the problem isn’t that traditional Christian symbols are being removed from the public sphere.
In my view, the problem is the belief that including Christian symbols in the public sphere somehow makes what is happening there consistent with the life and teaching of Jesus.
I argue that using traditional Christian symbols and language is actually what allows followers of Jesus to unreflectively participate in a cultural celebration as if it is a Christian one (when in reality it is not). Here I am not arguing that Christians can’t or shouldn’t engage in cultural Christmas celebrations. I’m suggesting, merely, that we not confuse that with following Jesus or celebrating his advent.
I’m also suggesting that removing all Christian symbols and language from our cultural celebration allows people to see what is left for what it really is. Only then will we be able to see clearly what the American Christmas season has become. That creates a space for us to consider when, where, why and how we engage in cultural celebrations and how we might celebrate the advent of Jesus more fully and more in keeping with the advent of Jesus.
This leads us to a paradox: If we want to keep “Christ in Christmas”, we have to let Jesus bow gracefully out of the American cultural Christmas scene. Then followers of Jesus will be free to pick up new practices that are consistent with the life and teaching of Jesus.
These practices can take on many forms, but they will likely involve more worship, be relational and rooted in love. I think the folks at the Advent Conspiracy are headed in the right direction.