Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Preacher’s Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter

Let’s speak of such things all year

Sometimes we Christians meet ourselves coming and going. This year’s “issue du jour” is the “Christmas Wars.”

For example, some of the most devout have gone to the press to announce their offence at the fact that President and Mrs. Bush sent them and a million of their other closest friends a “holiday” card with a winter scene of the White House and an Old Testament scripture verse. Get yours out and look at it.

In the past, however, every President since cards began to be sent, wished his supporters a Merry Christmas, not a Happy Holiday.

And so, we are told, in the name of inoffensiveness, another of the foundation pillars of Christianity has fallen.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not think Christians ought to be cowed in the practice of our faith, but by the same token, I wonder about those who would use even the occasion of a Presidential Christmas card to symbolize their desire to dominate others. “Merry Christmas” doesn’t mean much if Christians make it just one more occasion for a thumb in someone else’s eye.

For years we ministers have made it our ritual to get in a good jab at the materialism and “commercialization” of Christmas.

“Jesus is the reason for the season,” we have cried and then decried that the feast of Christ’s Nativity happens to coincide with the nation’s principal buying season for durable household items and cold weather clothing.

But this year voices are being raised in loud lament that Wal-Mart and Macy’s are no longer advertising their December sales as Christmas Events.

What a shame! The next thing you know discount furniture emporiums and used car dealers will no longer link their February clearance sales to Washington’s birthday!

For my part, I could care less whether the shopping mall puts a manger scene in the atrium, or whether they invite the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing carols in front of the box store.

Indeed for all the tin and tinsel, and for all the hubbub and hurry, I take great pleasure in the fact that in the midst of spending $200 for a necktie and $500 for a pullover sweater, the dim connection remains that we give our gifts after the example of the ancient magi who brought their gold and frankincense and myrrh to the manger of our king.

So we are reminded that the birth we prepare for happened in just this mundane, crass, banal, greedy world, which God loves so much.

Now that many are making claims that America was founded as a Christian nation, though there is no mention of this in either our Declaration of Independence or Constitution, it is worth turning to the writings of the New England Puritans, whose declarations are cited in support of this claim.

For indeed they came with the hope of establishing a Christian commonwealth.

And as part of their “city set upon a hill” the Puritans enacted laws making the celebration of Christmas — which was to them “a popish holiday” with all its revelry — a punishable crime.

And so Christmas was suppressed in Protestant America until Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria persuaded us that a bit of holly with a Christmas tree was not seriously detrimental to our faith.

My own Presbyterians might be interested to learn that even though we had celebrated the occasion in our churches “unofficially” for generations, Christmas Day was not officially listed on the calendars published by the Southern Presbyterian Church until 1960!

Such was the legacy of the old Puritans. How the Puritans would laugh at today’s present inverted zeal to commercialize Christmas.

They interviewed the rabbi of Hattiesburg about all this the other morning on Mississippi Public Radio.

The rabbi said that he always wished his Christian friends a merry Christmas, and that he was glad to see his right-wing Christian friends speaking so freely of peace on earth and good will toward men.

For his part, and for the sake of his own religion, the rabbi said he wished that Christians would speak of such things twelve months a year.

And who knows? If we keep going through the motions long enough, the reality of it all may sink in.

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