Merry Christmas

Please note that I did not say "Happy Holiday". I said:

Merry Christmas

As a kid I remember everyone saying Merry Christmas to everyone else. It meant best wishes to the listener. When people say it today, it means the same thing: best wishes to everyone, whether they celebrate Christmas or not.

Christmas used to be a time that everyone looked forward to. It is increasingly surrounded by controversy. Reasonable people have to ask "Why?"

Opponents of the public expression of Christmas say that it is a Christian holiday. The logic goes that we all need to respect other religions and we shouldn't be ramming Christianity down other peoples' throats. In other words, keep it to yourself.

First, I completely agree that Christmas is a Christian celebration. Christmas does not celebrate the birth of Buddha or Mohammed, it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. While some religions like Islam acknowledge that Jesus is an important religious figure, Christians believe that Jesus is the focal point of Christianity.

Because Christmas is a celebration about the birth of Jesus, it is a Christian celebration. If you say Merry Christmas you are really saying have a Merry Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. Should that be offensive to anyone that is not a Christian? Let's dig deeper.

There are those who are not Christians who are increasingly unhappy with the public reference to Christmas including the greeting "Merry Christmas". They are becoming more and more intolerant of the public celebration or expression of Christmas. More important, they are becoming more vocal and political in their push against Christmas.

Stories abound this year that there are more retailers who have instructed their employees to NOT SAY Merry Christmas. Why? So as not to offend those who are complaining about it. The retailers feel the need to pacify the complainers. They don't want to offend anyone, they just want to sell their stuff.

With the opponents to Christmas becoming increasingly vocal, we are now seeing more vocal complaints from Christians offended that "Merry Christmas" and the Christmas celebration are being purged from public view.

I was personally unhappy when, during the writing of this Christmas greeting/editorial, I saw a Honda automobile commercial which replaced the words of the song "We wish you a Merry Christmas" with "We wish you Happy Holidays". I wrote a note off to the company suggesting that they find another song. To stop saying Christmas is one way, taking Christmas symbols and cleansing them of Christmas references is another.

There was the story in October of how one Wal-Mart customer service employee tried to explain why Wal-Mart was telling its employees to stop saying "Merry Christmas". The employee wrote an e-mail to a Christian who complained about the new store policy. The employee wrote:

After the story hit the news, and after a number of complaints and threats of boycotts from Christian groups, Wal-mart fired the employee and apologized. What a sad sad situation. The employee was only attempting to respond to a store policy which was purging "Merry Christmas" as a greeting used by employees. While the employee's explanation may have been stupid, it was a direct result of a store policy that was stupid. Stupid begat stupid.

Now in fairness to the employee, the Christian celebration of Christmas has evolved and in the process has added a mixture of practices that were not originally part of early Christianity.

For example, there is nothing in the Bible about the early church celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The Bible doesn't even set out a date for his birth, although there are many clues as to the time of year and the year. Bible scholars debate the date when Jesus was actually born and while there are different opinions it is a very small group who believe that Jesus was born on December 25th. There are some who reason it was in the month of September sometime between 4 and 2 B.C.

Scholars are also pretty sure that Santa Claus was not one of the three wise men.

Given that, why are Christians so upset that there are those who are trying to undermine the celebration of Christmas? Why would Christians be offended by the attempt to change Merry Christmas into Happy Holiday, Christmas gifts into Holiday gifts, Christmas trees into Holiday trees, etc.

While the first Christians may not have celebrated Christmas, the celebration of Christmas can be dated back to the churches of the 4th century. That's 1,600 years and counting. By the 4th century December 25th had been established as the day when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.

To say the least, December 25th has been Christmas day for a very long time. It is now being suggested, no it is being asserted, that somehow this should be changed to a "holiday celebration" that all can enjoy. Why? Because we might offend those who are not Christians.

My advice to those wanting to change Christmas is pick another day and celebrate something on that. If someone wants a secular "winter holiday" that is NOT Christmas, no one should be discourageed from campaigning for that. There would be something profoundly honest about that approach. Convince the government to cancel the Federal statutory holiday of December 25th and replace it with a new Federal holiday on December 31st. Call it "Winterfest" or "Thanks for the Memories" or whatever. But messing with Christmas and trying to take the "Christ" out of Christmas means that people are messing with something that is very important to most Christians.

One of the frustrating problems for real Christians is that some of those suggesting that Christmas needs to change also claim that they are Christians. Now take note that I made a reference to "real Christians". If you didn't notice it, I do want you to notice it. I believe that there is a difference between "real Christians" and those who label themselves Christians but who are not Christians.

What is a "real Christian"? I think it is plainly set out in the Bible. A real Christian is someone who believes in Jesus. That statement alone is not particularly clear although you will find some who claim to be Christians today who debate whether Jesus even existed. Go figure.

Then there are those folks who say that they believe in Jesus but will also say that they believe in Santa Claus. When you challenge what they are referring to you get some kind of cosmic/mystic explanation that they are referring to the "spirit" of something (a kind of "use the force Luke").

"Belief" in Jesus is much more concrete than that. The apostle Paul explained it this way. Referring to the "gospel" which means the "Good News" about Jesus, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 1-8:

I would like to focus your attention on what Paul said. He wrote:

The key phrase is "first importance". What did Paul say was of "first importance"?

This defines basic Christian belief. If you believe this you are a Christian. If you do not believe this you are NOT a Christian.

Now it is relatively easy to believe in the death and burial of Jesus, assuming that you believe he existed at all (as noted, there are some who say they are Christians who question that). The real tough part is whether you also believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. If you look at the above passage from the Bible you will notice that Paul goes on at some length to give evidence to prove that there was a physical resurrection, relying upon the testimony of many witnesses including himself. You can read about Paul's meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts, Chapter 9.

Resurrection doesn't simply refer to "Jesus went to heaven". It was a Jesus walking around among believers resurrection.

If you do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, then you are not a Christian. Paul put it this way:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 NASB

Those are difficult words but I think it is fair to say that those who claim to be Christian, who don't believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, would not have been counted as Christians by Paul, one of the faith's early key leaders.

Then there are those who are real Christians, who have bought into the "separation of Church and State" logic. This was another one of those liberal judicial decisions which read something into the U.S. constitution that wasn't there. Even so, court decisions are court decisions (until they are overturned) and most opponents of the campaign to purge religious expression from government entities realize that there is a basis in law for the campaign (whether they agree with it or not).

Having acknowledged that, Wal-Mart and other publicly or privately owned companies are NOT Federal government agencies (at least not yet). Those who bring political pressure on companies like Wal-Mart, to stop expressions of Christmas, should expect a hard fought political campaign in the opposite direction. The more vocal the opponents of Christmas become, the more vocal supporters of Christmas will become. This is hardly the stuff that gets people into the Spirit of the Season.

So who is to blame for the growing conflict? Many point the finger at the Christians saying that they have no right to ram their religion down other peoples' throats. But the fact is that Christians are doing what they have done for decades and centuries. I would argue that most Christians today are much less vigorous at publicly expressing and testifying about their faith than Christians of years gone by.

Therefore, the problem is rooted in those who want to change Christmas. Their objective is to make this a secular, religion free society, although I suspect that Christianity is the primary target. That objective will ultimately lead to far more serious problems.

History is full of examples of attempts to stop religious expression. Such campaigns always lead to religious intolerance and eventually religious persecution. That is exactly why the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is the first item in the Bill of Rights, protects both freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The framers were well aware of the history of religious intolerance. The guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech means people don't just get to practice their religion, they are free to talk about it. If others don't like it, they don't have to listen but what they don't get is any right to silence the practice or expression of that religion.

To sum it up. Those who wish others a Merry Christmas are not making a negative statement, it is an entirely positive expression. It is not said by those intending to offend others. If you are one of the offended: try not to be.

With all that in mind, I want to wish you "Merry Christmas".