This time of year can get a little dicey for Christians in America. If my Facebook feed is representative of American Christians (and honestly, I suspect it’s not), it would appear that we get offended like it’s our job at Christmastime. Remember the great Starbucks red cup offense of 2015? Christians were offended that the cups of Starbucks were no longer adorned with snowflakes and Christmas trees, but were instead plain red. Boycotts were organized, blog posts were written, Facebook stories were shared, it was a whole thing. Christians were mad, offended, and taking action.
Never mind that Starbucks continued to sell one of my favorites – Christmas Blend, and never claimed to be a Christian or even religious company. Why on earth we’d be upset about a non-religious coffee company using plain red cups for their coffee that we are in no way obligated to buy or enjoy is beyond me.
Many of my fellow believers also get pretty offended by what they view as the generalization of Christmas into “holiday.” Store clerks no longer say a cheerful, “Merry Christmas,” but instead use, “Happy Holidays!” to greet customers. Or the utmost of offenses, people sometimes shorten “Merry Christmas” to “Merry X-Mas.” Taking Christ out of the whole dang thing.
Never mind that the use of “Happy Holidays” began because the Christmas season slowly encroached on Thanksgiving and New Year’s. You could consider a greeting of Happy Holidays to mean, “Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year’s,” but what’s the fun in that? Or you could enjoy the friendliness being offered and understand that we all have free will and live in a free country, so forcing someone to say, “Merry Christmas” will not change culture, hearts, policies, or minds. However, a forceful and grumpy (or even passive aggressively cheerful), “Merry CHRISTmas!” could very well change hearts and minds. Just probably not the way you’d hoped.
And never mind that “X” is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ, and is used as an abbreviation for Christ. Nobody is taking the Christ out of Christmas when they write, “Merry X-Mas.” That’s not a thing. Christians made it a thing, evidently without doing their research first, and now Christians all over America get offended when they see it. Have you noticed that you never really hear anyone saying, “Merry X-Mas,” it’s almost always written? That’s because Christmas is a long word, guys. When I’m adding Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, Christmas decorating, and Christmas plays to my calendar in December, you can bet I abbreviate the mess out of the word. And as it turns out, Jesus Christ is still firmly planted right at the center of every single one of my X-Mas celebrations.
I have to believe that most of us don’t choose to be offended by these things for the sake of being offended. I’m choosing to believe that we just really love Christ, and we really love that He came to earth as a baby, and we really want everyone around us to know how great, incredible, intimate, sacrificial, and astounding that act was. I’m choosing to believe that about believers, because the alternative is pretty sad.
So if our offenses really are because we are so joyful about the Christ child and want others to understand and share in that joy, can I offer a different approach?
First of all, let’s make sure Christ really is at the center of our celebrations. Andy Stanley wrote, “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.” It’s difficult – even for Christians – to keep our focus on Christ’s birth in this season. There are presents to wrap, trees to decorate, White Christmas to watch, cookies to make, Santa to visit, an elf to move every night, lights to see, snow to hope for, stockings to stuff, and hot cocoa to drink. Before you admonish others for not keeping the Christ in Christmas, work hard to make sure your focus is on Him and your children have consistent reminders to refocus their hearts, too. That’s how we change culture, and that’s the most direct impact we can have on the future of the kingdom of God.
Second of all, let’s interact with love. If we lived in a world where every corporation celebrated with religious symbols, where every person we encountered said, “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” and where every family had a manger scene on their lawn, that would mean one of two things. Either we would live under a government wherein Christianity is mandated, or every person on earth became a believer and Jesus can finally come back. We can’t (and perhaps, more importantly – shouldn’t) force anyone to believe in Christ or to celebrate the way we deem acceptable. And since Jesus hasn’t come back yet, that means we still have work to do. Work that involves being the hands and feet of Jesus and making evident the joy and the hope that you have in Christ. We get to share the news of Christ’s birth and all that means for mankind, and the differences in how we go about celebrating and enjoying our Christmas season presents perfect opportunities to have those discussions about our joy and hope.
And finally, fellow Christians, let’s get offended. Let’s get really offended. Let’s get so offended that we start taking action and making a difference. Let’s not get distracted by complaining about cups and x’s. That’s low hanging fruit. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. And then with a singular focus on Him, let’s look around at our world, the weary world that rejoiced and felt a thrill of hope at the new and glorious morn that broke when Christ was born. Because if we’re looking to be offended, the options before us are endless. Let’s get offended that children are being exploited in cybersex trafficking, often for an American audience. Or we could be offended that 415,129 children are in the foster care system with 107,918 of them waiting to be adopted. We could also be offended by the reality of this child’s life, and the bombing of the hospital soon after. THESE are the things that deserve our offense, our outrage, our boycotts, our action.
Let’s show the world the hope and joy that we profess, the hope and joy that came from heaven, humbling Himself to lay in scratchy hay, because He adores His children. You. Me. Them. And then, let’s act out of that hope and joy. Let’s treat others with whom we disagree or don’t understand as if that person is indeed an image bearer of God. Let’s fight for those who can’t fight for themselves because that’s what God does for us. Let’s speak up and take action when we see injustice because those are fellow children of God, and dang it, if they’re important enough for Christ to die for them, then they’re important enough for me to fight for them. Guys, we can change the world. We can change our culture. Who cares if people say, “Merry Christmas?” I care that people come to know and love the Jesus who has so drastically changed everything. I care that people in my world – in your world – are hurting, aching, being abused, being killed, being marginalized, and that I have the ways and means to change that in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord.
This Christmas, fellow believers, let’s change the world. Let’s see to it that we share a “Merry Christmas.” Let’s get offended.