Pastor Richard's Blog

Don't Be Offended By "Happy Holidays"

I will confess that I love Christmas.  I love Christmas trees and Christmas decorations.  I love wrapping presents and (especially) unwrapping presents.  I love singing carols and drinking eggnog.  I love just about everything to do with Christmas.  I say just about because there is one aspect of Christmas I don’t enjoy.  I don’t enjoy the tendency of some of my fellow Christians to (seemingly) look for reasons to become outraged.  What is it about Christmas that seems to bring out the moral indignation of believers?  Let me give an example:

Every year about this time I come across all kinds of blogs and articles and letters by Christians up in arms because some evil cashier or heathen store clerk has dared to wish them Happy Holidays.  These irate Christians proceed to rant on the evils of Canadian and American culture which is trying to remove any semblance of Christian meaning from Christmas and turn it into just another secular holiday on a par with Valentine’s Day (with the addition of a tree)

Perhaps I’m in the minority here but in a world where I get cut off in traffic and am given one-finger salutes by the drivers of said cars, I’m just grateful to have somebody—anybody! —smile at me and wish me well.  I can’t work up the slightest bit of moral indignation over that.

Another example:  Around this time of year I can be guaranteed to come across letters and articles  by Christians irate because they have seen the word, Xmas, written somewhere.  There follows the predictable diatribe against taking Christ out of Christmas.  Of course, if these righteous crusaders took just a minute to do a little research they would discover that the abbreviation, X, for Christ actually predates by centuries its use in garish advertisements.  X is the Greek letter chi which is the first letter in the word Χριστός.  And Χριστός is translated Christ in English.  And, as I said, the X in Χριστός has been a common abbreviation for the word Christ for hundreds of years.  But that’s just me being a spoilsport—why let facts interfere with a good case of moral outrage!

What is it about Christians at Christmas that make us want to be on the lookout for something to be offended by?  Political cartoonist Tim Kreider has labelled this tendency towards indignation as “outrage porn”—an innate desire we all have to feel both “(1) right and (2) wronged.”  There just seems to be in each of us a desire to feel superior to others.  And there’s nothing like a good rant to give us a strong sense of moral superiority.  

But is that really what Christmas is all about?  Did God come in flesh to this earth so that we can get worked up over cashiers who wish us Happy Holidays and people who write Xmas instead of Christmas?  I think not.  Rather, I think Jesus came to show us a new way—a better way—of treating one another—the way of love, acceptance, and understanding rather than of anger and judgment.  So, this season, when someone wishes you Happy Holidays show the true spirit of Xmas and say simply, Thank you.

Believers Need To Stand Up For Minorities

The United States is more divided today than at any other point in my lifetime.  Divisions between cultures, economic backgrounds, religions, and even men and women are rampant.  It might be tempting for those of us “up north” to get a little smug, believing that the things happening in the U.S. could never happen here.  Don’t believe it!  The same prejudices, rancour, and hatreds we find in the States are in Canada as well and flare up from time to time.  Given this, what are we, as believers, called to do?  How can we be “salt and light” in the midst of bitter hatred?  Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine, suggests these action steps:

1.  Go deeper in faith.  Too many people, Christians included, have no moral compass.  We must take time to read, study, and reflect on the words of Jesus—and then seek to live them out in our daily lives.

2.  Lift up truth.  Many people let their emotions determine their beliefs.  In contrast, Wallis challenges Christians to “replace fear with facts when it comes to public discussions about immigrants, refugees, Muslims, racial diversity, and national security.”

3.  Reject racism.  Whether it’s introduced under the guise of the “alt-right,” White Nationalism, White Supremacy, or Neo-Nazism, racism is a sin against our neighbour and against the God who created us all in His image.  Let us see diversity as a gift from our Creator and an opportunity for our nation to encourage full participation for all.

4.  Love your neighbours by protecting them from hate speech and attacks.  How can we act to support people who are afraid because they belong to groups that have been targeted by those who would destroy diversity?  We must watch for, report, and confront hate speech and behaviour wherever we find it—be it against ethnic and religious groups, women, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, or other marginalized people.  Indeed, let’s surround those being attacked with a supportive community.

5.  Welcome the stranger.  Let us invite and welcome immigrants and their families into our faith communities and actively work to help them settle in our communities.

6.  Defend religious liberty.  Let us embrace Muslims as fellow Canadians and protect them and their mosques from fear of attack.  Let us also reject anti-Semitism as part of the White Nationalist movement.  

7.  Work to put an end to the misogyny that enables rape culture.  Make every effort to replace misogyny with mutual respect.  Name sexual assault for what it is: a sin and a crime.  Support efforts towards gender equality in our workplaces, schools, and political systems.

8.  Protest with your best values.  The right to protest that which we oppose is a fundamental freedom in any democracy.  As Christians, we are called to protest those policies and actions that dehumanize our neighbour but to do so with dignity, discipline, and non-violence.  Hate for hate is never an option.  

9.  Listen.  Ultimately, the only thing that will end the divisions and polarizations in our culture is dialogue.  So, listen to those you disagree with.  Help our congregations to become safe and sacred spaces for hearing each other’s stories—including the painful ones.  Listen twice before you speak once!

Jim Wallis concluded his article with these words that all Christians should take to heart: “The days and weeks and years ahead will require much of us. . ..  Everything isn’t going to be all right, but we will stick together, sustain each other, and mobilize our energy, time, and resources, to protect the people, values, and commitments we care most about.  We will move forward together.”