While sharing the Gospel with a front-line cashier is a nice thought, the anti-action tone of “The Great Christmas Wars” [December] is appalling. Yes, we Lutherans do need to have a strong inner foundation, as Dr. David W. Loy suggests, but if we bury our heads in the sand, we will be forced into martyrdom without a word of opposition. The author is right, there is a war raging: Look around, from the courthouse down the street; where the Ten Commandments monument is being torn out, to the removal of Nativity scenes from the town square, to the limitation on prayer and speech.
Lutherans must not ignore or belittle the seemingly unimportant war that is being waged against word usage, even though it may seem like merely semantics. Those minute distinctions in phraseology–like turning “Christmas” to “Holiday”–are attempts to rid the Gospel from Americans’ daily lives. The more we don’t hear Christmas, Christ, prayer, the less we think about them, and the easier it is for some elements in our country that want them gone to slowly remove them from our vocabulary and from our daily life.
When we allow the secular world to frame our vocabulary, and limit our religious speech, we begin to give it an opportunity to limit what our pastors say, for instance, losing the freedom to speak about political campaigns. We also lose our right to speak the truth, as Christ did, against sin in the world because it could be and debatably is considered “hate speech” by society.
Christ spoke out against the Pharisees and opposed their deceitful, misleading words and questions at every corner and used the opportunity to bring others to faith.
Speaking the truth and getting the word out about salvation is the responsibility of all Christians. If Christians don’t speak out against the assault taking place on the minute semantic level, we will lose our ability to speak the truth completely. Our language will be limited by the words we no longer use because they are absent in our daily lives. When we lose the ability to communicate the Gospel, we become ineffective at spreading the message. The call of all Christians is to spread the Word, and as such, we must work to protect our ability to spread the Word as well, lest we become silenced forever.
Although it is important to keep the spiritual fires stoked internally, we must not stick our heads in the sand and miss the great calling that we all have. So, I say sign your petitions and start your boycotts, war has been waged on Christians since Christ hung on the cross, and if we cease to carry our banner forward, our right to carry it will end. Commercial entities as well as governmental entities that would silence Christians need to be peacefully, but vocally opposed. We must speak the truth, to the clerk, to her manager, to the CEO, to the board of directors, to the stockholders, and finally to the political campaigns that the company contributes to, thus reaching politicians. Without action on each Christian’s part, we not only risk losing the word Christmas, but all words with the potentially “offensive” name Christ in it: Christmas, Christianity, and Christians.
A few days ago I read through the February letters to the editor about the “Christmas Wars.” I think it was courageous to print so much negative response. You could have chosen to ignore those letters or to respond to them privately. Printing negative opinions takes a healthy combination of self-confidence and humility.
The comments shared there reminded me of my contribution to our congregation’s newsletter in December, which I’ve attached [see below]. It may be too late for this year’s “Christmas Wars.” but I thought you might be interested. Keep up the good work.
* * * * * *
Last summer, while cleaning out some old files, I came across an old article about Christmas that I think is absolutely fascinating. Let me share some excerpts from that article.
On June 3, 1647, the British parliament established punishments for anyone caught observing Christmas. Parliament felt compelled to take some action because commercialism around the celebration had gotten out of hand. Town criers passed through the streets ringing their bells and shouting, “No Christmas! No Christmas!” The bill passed by Parliament read: “Resolved by Parliament: that no observation shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December commonly called Christmas Day; nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches upon the day in respect thereof.” For those who celebrated Christmas quietly in their churches, this caused a good deal of soul-searching and some martyr-like acts of courage.
Complaints about commercialism go all the way back to A.D. 245. One Christmas Eve, the Church father Origen preached that Christmas had been returned to a heathen holiday.
The Puritans who settled New England refused to celebrate Christmas on the grounds that no day was more important than the Sabbath. New settlers were forced to work on Christmas Day. In 1856, Christmas was still an ordinary workday in Boston and failure to report to a job was grounds for dismissal. Public schools held class on Christmas Day until 1870. In 1836, Alabama became the first state to declare Christmas a legal holiday; in 1890, Oklahoma was the last state to do so. In the United States, credit is given to German and Irish immigrants for persuading the powers that be that Christmas could be a “harmless, pleasant, and even religious festivity.”
In England, one man, perhaps more than any other, helped to restore the celebration of Christmas: Charles Dickens. His classic tale about Scrooge in A Christmas Carol was written, Dickens said, to help people see that Christmas is a “good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they were really fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it, but it’s true. Our laments about how Christmas has been ruined in recent years seem hollow by comparison.
On other occasions, I’ve shared with you that I believe history is cyclical, it repeats itself. Good times come and go and so do hard times. Depending on when an individual is born, one either has the good fortune of living through a good time or the misfortune of living through a hard time. Sometimes, in the same lifetime, one experiences several cycles. Through them all, one constant remains, unmoved and immovable, fixed, permanent, stable, continuous, and eternal: the promise of God to be with us always and the fulfillment of that promise.
Soon we will celebrate Christmas, something unheard of in our nation’s early history. Because of all that is going on in our nation these days, this year’s celebration may be quieter than we’re accustomed to; there may be few presents under the tree. Whatever the material realities of our celebration turn out to be, they will do nothing to diminish the Good News of the event: that “He shall be called Immanuel, which means God with us.”
In every age there are things that are not what we think they should be; not what we want them to be; and sometimes there is nothing we can do about those things but to live through them confident that the God who loved us so much that He gave us His one and only Son will see us safely through.
Dr. Daniel G. Mueller
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
San Antonio, Texas
Send letters to “Letters,”
c/o The Lutheran Witness,
1333 S. Kirkwood Road,
St. Louis, MO 63122-7295;
or send them via e-mail to Lutheran.Witness@LCMS.org.