Many years ago I wrote my brother a check to contribute to a gift that the siblings in my family—my brother, my sister, and I—had given our parents for Christmas. I wrote on the memo line “Mom and Dad’s X-mas”. When my brother saw it, his face turned sour for a second and he gently chided me in that way that older brothers do their younger sisters. “You know better than to take Christ out of Christmas.”
This was years before I’d have the language to tell him that the “X” in “X-mas” was not the English letter X but was actually the Greek letter Chi , and that the ancient people who used Koine Greek did this all the time. It was years before I’d be able to lay out a theological argument that the “X” doesn’t take out the Christ, but the “X” is Christ, all concentrated into one handy little initial. It was years before I packed up my family and moved 2,200 miles away to California, to study, among other things, “X” and Christ and liturgy and ecclesiology and Koine Greek.
I wrote it that way because the darn line was too short to fit “Christmas.” And he verbally noogied me for it. That’s what brothers do, I suppose.
But in our 21st Century culture, the noogies we give each other over the meaning and significance of December 25th abound. You’ve heard the popular phrases, no doubt: “Keep Christ in Christmas” “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season” and of course, the ever-popular War on Christmas, which, if we are to believe conservative talk show hosts, is a liberal plot to take every shred of sacred and religious meaning out of the celebration of the birth of Christ and reduce it to a pagan ritual involving Frosty, Santa, and Rudolph.
Those who believe themselves to be foot soldiers defending Christmas against the paganization by atheists back up their claims of this liberal cultural warfare by pointing to “Holiday trees” on public government property and “Winter concerts” in public schools. And, of course, the “Happy holidays” greeting at the local discount big box store. “Merry X-mas” infuriates some of them.
It’s curious to me how some people express their loyalty to the babe born in the manger—born to a teenage unwed mother, no less—by casting aspersions on other cultures, other religions, other ways of celebrating hope and joy and peace and love. Especially when so many of our Christmas rituals are the result of syncretization of pre-Christian pagan rituals. I think if that grown-up baby, Jesus of Nazareth, were to visit North America in 2012, he might neither be amused, nor feel as though he needed commentators defending his birthday, once he got a look at how we treat each other in his name.
What if instead our artillery this year in the “war on the war on X-mas” was kindness, and patience with those who celebrate this sacred season in a manner different than ours? What if we accepted the holiday greetings of others—no matter how they are expressed—as a wish and future hope for peace and goodwill for all humankind? Then, perhaps the words of my favorite Advent hymn would ring true:
“Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them,
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.”*
May it be so, no matter what our tradition or creed.
*Johannes G. Olearious, translated by Catherine Winkworth.
I am an ordained Teaching Elder (the office formerly known as Minister of Word and Sacrament) in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A lifelong Midwesterner (except for those years spent at the San Francisco Theological Seminary), I currently live in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI with my partner of over thirty years, my spouse Peter. Together we raised two children who are now young adults and who manage just fine without us in places as far flung as the next town over, and the west coast.
I’ve served as a parish pastor, and also at the regional governing body level in a judicatory capacity. But what gets my creative juices flowing these days is writing, whether it be a sermon, an article, a blog post, or my burgeoning memoir, an account of my journey as a small-church pastor.
I view the political landscape through a complicated lens. I come from a conservative, rural background. Growing up, I only knew one child in my county-consolidated school whose father did not vote for Richard Nixon. My own political transformation began when I worked for ten years for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
My theological reflections will appear in Abingdon’s Creative Preaching Journal for the year 2014, published in 2013. I’ve also appeared in the Episcopal Women’s Caucus Journal, Ruach, and have written materials for the Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice. I am a proud charter member of RevGalBlogPals blog ring, and blog at You Win Some, You Learn Some.