Tis the season for the life and death struggle over holiday greetings. You may have seen by now that Starbucks will be using all red cups for the holiday season–a simple design with no reference to anything Christmas-related (or really to anything at all). Apparently, this has outraged some Christians who are now scheming for ways to poke Starbucks in the eye with all the Christmas bad cheer they can muster. (I say “apparently” because (1) I don’t assume people online are who they say they are, and (2) I’ve seen far more Christians outraged over the outrage than outraged in the first place.)
Which raises an increasingly relevant question: how should we respond when the secular saints and corporate gatekeepers decide that this time of year has nothing to do with Christmas and that Christmas has nothing to do with Christ?
I understand the angst. It is annoying when the local nativity scene which offended exactly no one for 50 years is forcibly removed, or can only stay up when an obnoxiously insincere ode to Satan is placed next to it. It is sad that in a country which is still overwhelmingly Christian (even if in name only) that you have to see your kids in the “winter program” sing about snowflakes and candles and Santa and almost anything that happens in December that isn’t Christmas. I too think it is silly for stores, in an effort to keep in lockstep with the purveyors of Correct Speech, to prohibit their clerks and coffeemakers from uttering the words “Merry Christmas” when the same store manager probably rails on the evils of censorship in his free time and teaches his kids to “question authority.” So yes, keeping Christ and Christmas out of the public square is a step backward for a culture that once believed the month of December was about something more than shopping and trying to stay thin.
But reviling when reviled is hardly a wise or biblical strategy. I get the frustration. And yet, surely we can do better than communicate to the watching world, “Screw you! I’ll get you to say ‘Merry Christmas’ if it’s the last thing I ever do, jerk!” If the idea is to keep words like Christmas in the public square–and hipper-than-thou Christians take note, that’s not a pointless goal–there are better ways to go about it.
Even in our day where the language police, in the name of diversity, are eager to impose a strict uniformity of thought and expression, Christ has not been removed from Christmas and Christmas has not been totally stripped from the holidays. The same malls that may wish to rid their public space of the most innocuously “Christian” greetings, will pump out the most blatant Christian propaganda from their loud speakers by playing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, and Joy to the World. Let’s not curse the darkness when there is still much light for which we can give thanks.
More important than the Christians songs and salutations that may or may not ring out in the next six weeks are the Christians who will interact with their unbelieving friends and neighbors. What does it matter if we fight to preserve the culture of Christianity in the background if we do not dare to have any Christ-centered conversations in the foreground? Christmas is the season for welcome more than warfare, for invitation more than indignation, for hospitality more than hostility.
Let’s look at the next month and half as a season of opportunities instead of a season of obstacles. Invite a friend to church. Give out a good Christian book. Ask for someone’s favorite Christmas song. Bring your non-Christian family to the Sunday school program. Pray for 12 chances–one for each of the 12 Days of Christmas–to mention the Savior in the manger. Why not put Linus’s rendition of Luke 2 on your Facebook page? And while you’re at it, go ahead and say Merry Christmas to anyone and everyone. Just be sure to say it with a smile and not a sneer.