Last Christmas I did not go to one department store or shopping. I say this not out of any pride. Actually I didn’t go because it would have made me angry, and not because of the crowds (I like the crowds). What would have made me angry is seeing the signs, “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” Every year the debate starts up and I get into it, and I get excited. I get so upset every time I see those signs reading, “Merry Christmas.” What? Wait, hold on. I’m on the wrong side. I’m a Christian. That’s the thing I’m not really taking sides, because I get upset for a different reason.
Every year I hear my brothers and sisters saying, “We have to put ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christmas’.” Is it the job of the stores to take on this task? Whose story is this? As Christian we have been given a precious responsibility to be the tellers of this story, so why do we get upset when other people aren’t telling it? Are we trying to outsource the gospel?
If we are asking others to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” I assume that means we trust that they are celebrating Christmas in a Christ-centered Kingdom focused way. So how are the stores holding up? Since we want them to use the name of Christ our Lord who came to set the captives free, how well do they tell the story? Well, according to the mall, Christmas is about getting good deals, buying stuff, and general out of control materialism. Really at the heart of it, isn’t it just about those companies making money? So that’s what the highest title in the Kingdom of God is being used for, making money?
Every year on Black Friday people die. They getting trampled on the ground because they and everyone else wants to get stuff and save money while doing it. And flying above their heads is a sign reading “Merry Christmas.” Is this how we want to tell our story? Is this how we want to celebrate Christmas?
Digging deeper, how are those products so cheap? Do we know who made them? Whose hands knit that sweater? Does she get paid living wages? Does she get breaks regularly? How many hours a week does she work? What about the toy for a nephew, who made that? Was it a minor? Does he work in safe conditions? How old was he when he started working? Is he getting an education? What about chocolate? Who grew the cocoa? Was he forced into labor? Is violence used against him as an incentive to work harder? It is heartbreaking and horrific that way too often the answers aren’t good.
When we buy products from companies who do not fight these practices, we are in turn supporting these practices. This is the Christmas story being told.
That is why I think unless the owners of the company rejoice in the story of the coming of the Christ, and unless they do everything they can to fight bad labor practices they should not dare to use the name of Jesus in anyway. That is not the story Jesus wants us tell. I do not know why my brothers and sisters are so insistent on celebrating the birth of Jesus by making sure that corporate discount stores say "Merry Christmas" while we buy sweatshop clothing, toys made by child laborers, and chocolate grown by slaves. I'm really not sure how that celebrates the birth of Jesus, who ate with and took care of religious, social, and ethnic outcasts.
Brothers and sisters, why do we care more about whether or not stores say, “Merry Christmas,” than do about the labourers and slaves you made our products? Honestly. Is it ignorance? That’s probably really common and understandable. Is it frustration with not knowing what we can possibly do in response to such huge issues? Is it a belief that God doesn’t really care about that stuff or that we aren’t really responsible? Or maybe it’s just a love of stuff? Ask. Wrestle with it.
I love when Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” When you find yourself in the midst of these struggles and questions, Jesus says you are presently blessed. You may not find the right answers, but don’t let that stop you from hungering and thirsting. Pursue the Kingdom. Pursue it not just in empty phrases like “Merry Christmas” that are backed up by greed and slavery like a white washed tomb, but pursue the Kingdom in holistic living with the totality of your being.
This Advent, let us not “Put ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christmas’.” I do not believe should or can do that. Let’s not even worry about whether or not anyone outside the Church is or is not telling the story the way God wants. Instead, let us ourselves, “Where is Christ this Christmas?” Then let’s get in on that.
May the indwelling Spirit of Christ be in you. May you struggle as God lifts you up. May you tell the story of Christmas. And may you with every breath, with every fiber in your being worship the the Christ, the Messiah, the Liberating King who came to free us from all bondage.