I always have to brace myself for the Christmas season.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it. The songs, the smells, the trees, the lights, I love every bit of this season…except for one thing.
It’s something we seem to have borrowed from our American brothers and sisters.
Like most holiday traditions we’ve imported in recent years from across the Atlantic (trick or treating, Black Friday, pumpkin spice lattes) it feels novel for a while, but eventually leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
I am, of course, taking about “The War on Christmas”. We don’t actually call it this the UK yet, but like the aforementioned seasonal travesties, we’ll eventually adopt it with gusto.
You’ll see it creep onto Facebook walls, litter your Twitter feed, and maybe even hear it spoken of in person around a table or after the local carol service.
Local school bans Nativity play!
Local council bans carol singing!
Local shop bans staff from saying “Merry Christmas”!
It always starts with a ban. That’s the shock.
Then comes the awe…
Locals dismayed by “Winter Festival”
Locals furious at “Holiday Trees”
Locals seeking medical support for permanent state of dismay and fury.
And the enemy isn’t anonymous. People of other faiths, people of no faith, the liberal media, political correctness…someone or something is always to blame.
And the rush to outcry is faster and more violent than a Black Friday opening at a well stocked Best Buy.
Here’s a recent example from the USA:
President Trump is currently claiming to have “brought back Christmas”. He was backed up in this by his favourite hype man, Franklin Graham. Graham was so impressed with the President’s words at the annual tree lighting ceremony that he tweeted a link to the speech with this exhortation:
“Never in my lifetime have we had a @POTUS willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like @realDonaldTrump. We need to get behind him with our prayers.”
In the speech he’d linked to, President Trump had said this:
“The Christmas Story begins 2,000 years ago with a mother, a father, their baby son, and the most extraordinary gift of all—the gift of God’s love for all of humanity…Whatever our beliefs, we know that the birth of Jesus Christ and the story of his life forever changed the course of human history.”
A clear, and concise understanding of some of what the Christmas story means to people all over the world. And he has been promising that he would bring back “Merry Christmas” to the Whitehouse. Playing on the notion that President Obama was unwilling to say the word, or had tried to remove “Christmas” during his time in office.
So let’s examine that.
Here’s the opening remarks from President Obama at the exact same event in 2016:
“Merry Christmas, everybody!”
I could leave it there, but let’s remember the tweet from Graham:
“Never in my lifetime have we had a @POTUS willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like @realDonaldTrump…”
President Obama continued in his speech last year, at the same event, to say this:
“Along with celebrations like these, the holidays also offer us a time for reflection and perspective. And over these next few weeks, as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, as we retell the story of weary travelers, a star, shepherds, Magi, I hope that we also focus ourselves on the message that this child brought to this Earth some 2,000 years ago — a message that says we have to be our brother’s keepers, our sister’s keepers; that we have to reach out to each other, to forgive each other. To let the light of our good deeds shine for all. To care for the sick, and the hungry, and the downtrodden. And of course, to love one another, even our enemies, and treat one another the way we would want to be treated ourselves.
It’s a message that grounds not just my family’s Christian faith but that of Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, non-believers — Americans of all backgrounds.”
I’m fairly confident (although feel free to fact check) that Franklin Graham was alive a year ago.
So what was his tweet about?
Because it’s basically untrue.
Let’s speak plainly, that tweet is a lie.
And that’s the first thing we’ve got to get better at – the truth.
It means thinking twice before we share a petition, or jump on a bandwagon.
It means checking out the sources, doing our own research, and finding out if the facts measure up to the clickbait title or headline.
It means being sure that the thing we’re fighting against even exists, and that if it does, that fighting is really the best move anyway.
But the more worrying thing about Franklin Graham’s tweet is that it’s a lie designed to make his 1.2million followers believe that by saying out loud the basic Christian understanding of the Christmas story you are taking a stand for Christianity.
Nothing else you say or do. No actions, beliefs, policies, or words matter. As long as you take a strong stand for saying “Merry Christmas”, refuse to acknowledge the season of winter, avoid the word “holiday” and whatever you do, don’t mention the “X” word, you’re standing up for the Christian faith.
And that’s a lie too.
Because if all we have to do in this season, to honour the truth hidden within it, is muster a pithy, two-word slogan, then Christmas is nothing but a vanity project for the Church. And the Christ at the heart of it is nothing more than an egomaniac who demands his name be uttered at every turn.
Like Beetlejuice who can only show up when you say his name three times.
Or a church Santa who’ll only arrive at the carol service if the kids scream “HELLO SANTA!!” loudly enough.
Or, the type of person who attaches his name to anything he owns in giant golden letters so that people know who’s in charge around there…can you even imagine such a monster?
The truth is, at Christmas we celebrate not ego or vanity.
Not pride or presentation.
Not brashness or branding.
At Christmas, we celebrate the ultimate act of humility.
All wrapped up in a manger, the last place you’d expect to find it.
At Christmas, we celebrate the ultimate act of humility. An entrance that needed no public recognition to give it significance.
No horses or chariots, no staunch defence, no “bigger and better”.
At Christmas, we celebrate that in the simplest, most humble, least likely places, we can find hope.
That whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever circumstances you’re facing, however merry you feel, and whatever words you use, Christmas only ever points to peace.
Because there’s no room for war in Christmas.
So, I’ll leave the final words to a President who, in my lifetime, and my humble opinion, seemed to get what this season was all about:
“It’s a message of unity and a message of decency and a message of hope that never goes out of style. And it’s one that we all need very much today.”