A dear family member sent me the following video and asked, “What do you think?”
In the video, posted at a progressive, liberal website called Mic, Rev. Kevin O’Brien, dean of the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, expresses the opinion that Jesus would not care if we wished each other a Merry Christmas, at all. He claims that Jesus would prefer we lived out the message of the Gospel.
Interesting topic. Here’s my take:
Father O’Brien conflates our concern for the commercialization of Christmas with what he claims is a generally-accepted rule of thumb: that the greeting, “Merry Christmas,” is considered a litmus test for whether we are authentically Christian. It’s a fallacy, right out of the gate. There are two completely separate issues going on, here.
First, no reasonable person thinks that if we say “Merry Christmas” it proves our Christianity. In recent generations here in the United States, those happy words have been casually and good-naturedly appropriated and used as a seasonal greeting by people across all faith boundaries. This claim that Christians pat themselves on the back for saying it and then sit back, satisfied that they have proved their authenticity, is not credible.
Second, there is something quite concerning about today’s intense cultural pressure to bury the real meaning of this holy season. That’s what this is really all about.
At this point in our history as a nation, corporations now routinely prohibit their sales staffs from saying Merry Christmas to customers. The idea, ostensibly, is to avoid offending people of other faith traditions; yet, the whole reason for the huge upswing in sales for these same companies is this particular Christian tradition, which is sacred to billions of people around the world. The fact that people of other traditions join in the fun is beside the point. If this were a Muslim tradition and wealthy corporate barons tried to erase the real meaning by prohibiting certain words from being said in public, the cries of tyranny would be deafening.
This suppression of two harmless words that have long expressed kind wishes to all–while reaping profits that keep many of these businesses afloat the rest of the year–is “cultural appropriation” at its worst, something progressives claim to despise.
Those who attempt to bully employees out of acknowledging the meaning of the season are not acting in a true spirit of tolerance and acceptance–quite the opposite. They are trying to erase it.
Why? I believe it’s because Christianity has always been a thorn in the side of those in power. Christians historically are willing to suffer rather than succumb to indoctrination, and our society is full of indoctrination on all sorts of issues: social, moral, and political. The school system sees to the indoctrination of the young, joined by the media, higher academia, and other powerful social influencers.
So my response to those who would forbid anyone from saying something as kind and heartfelt as “Merry Christmas” is this: Stop appropriating our traditions, which are sacred, purely for your own profit, and posturing and pretending that to acknowledge what is sacred to Christians is inherently offensive. Even if only a tiny remnant is celebrating Christmas out of love for Jesus, it is still our sacred tradition, a tradition that shines a unifying, healing, and eternal light into the darkness of our fallen world.
Regarding wishing people a Merry Christmas and the possible risk of offending our Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or other brothers and sisters, here’s what I do, everywhere I go:
I pay for my items, thank the store employee with a smile, and then ask, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” If they say, “Yes,” I wish them a merry Christmas. If they say (as the girl at the bakery counter said, this morning), “I celebrate Hanukkah,” I say, “Well have a very happy Hanukkah!”
This accomplishes two things (at least): It tells my fellow traveler that I am Christian and take the season seriously, but it also says that I respect the other faith traditions and the sacredness of those celebrations, beliefs, and customs. This moment of human warmth and connection can be that “encounter” that Pope Francis wants for us, in a very small way. Yet, those small encounters can be used by God to sow His holy peace among us, and that is huge.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, devoted to the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux, reminded her followers to do “little things with great love.” The little things matter. God can work miracles of grace through every tiny act of love.
Of course our faith is about living the message of the Gospel, not just saying something Christian (as some sort of phony proof of our authenticity). That is just beyond obvious. But the phenomenon of censorship and denial that has been called, in recent years, “the war on Christmas,” is something we should all be concerned about, whatever our beliefs. Nobody’s faith tradition should be stripped of its identity for any reason, least of all politics or profit. So we actually do defend the rights of other faith traditions when we stand up for our own, in a spirit of mutual love and respect.
If Christmas is in your heart, share it kindly.
May God bless you with his holy peace, providing all that you need to fully become the person you are meant to be, whatever your traditions, beliefs, and customs. Amen.