I have heard the cries of those who are in great anguish about the secularization of the month of December running up to Christmas. Many are angry that shop clerks are not permitted to say "Merry Christmas" because some customers might be displeased at the religious reminder. Many found it difficult to find greeting cards that included the word "Christmas" in them - instead, they found "Season's Greetings," "Happy Holidays" and the like. Children's school pageants had no Christmas carols in them, although through the ignorance of school officials regarding the holiday of Hannukah, the dreidel song, and song about these little candles was sometimes included.
I heard frequently, this year, for the first time, "If people don't want to celebrate Christmas, then they should voluntarily work that day and not take it off." Or, "If people don't want Christ in Christmas, then it shouldn't be a national holiday anymore."
My questions are these: What keeps a Christian from saying, "Merry Christmas" to the shop clerk? What keeps a Christian from writing in the words, "Merry Christmas" on a greeting card, or getting the ones that don't have any text and writing in your own sentiment?
I have listened without comment to the distress of all. If I had said anything, I would have said this: I have no problem with the secularization of the season. It makes no difference to my faith, or to my celebration of the holy seasons of Advent and Christmastide. I have no desire to compel religion on anyone. If I were to say "Keep Christ in Christmas," it would be to my fellow observant Christians who get so wound up at this time of year. The rest of the world is welcome to celebrate the winter solstice, the ice holiday, the winter season. And if shop clerks can't say "Merry Christmas" to me, that's fine, too.
Christianity no longer rules the world. We're better off for that. We've become lazy. We've taken our religion for granted. We take the presence of the church for granted. We assume it will always be there for our births, weddings and funerals. If it is not, it is because we ourselves have assumed wrongly its eternal place of primacy in society - and we all know what "assume" does.
We have failed to know the good news. We have failed to take our baptisms seriously, making Christ known to all people. We don't tell our faith stories. I'm not even sure we know why we are Christians and not something else.
If I worship God in Jesus Christ, there is no need for the rest of the world - shop clerks, greeting card manufacturers, or anyone else - to validate for me the celebration of the birth in Bethlehem. The choices of the rest of the world have nothing to do with the joy of Christmas in my heart. If others choose not to keep Christmas, still I will keep it in my heart and in my life all the year long.
Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year, filled with the love, joy, and peace of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.