A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Taking the Christ out of Christmas or Why Jesus is not the reason for the season

For my part, I know what I’m going to do about the people who are trying to suppress the “J” and “C” words. I’m not going to shop at their silly businesses, and I’m going to blast everyone I see with a full, loud, and uncensored, “Merry Christmas!” I might even start shouting at them, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” [from "Killing Christmas: Taking The Christ Out Of Christmas"]

About this time during the holiday season we hear a good deal of "Christ" and Christmas. Conservative Christians go to great pains to stress the importance of keeping the "Christ" in Christmas. Christmas, they say, is about Christ; it is about the birth of Christ and celebrating God's gift of his Son to mankind. We conservative Christians seem to feel that it our duty to put the "Christ" back into Christmas because "the world" (the most misused of all Xtian terms) has taken Christ out of Christmas. As the above quote illustrates, all of this can get rather political and emotional. Some respond rather strongly when they see businesses, government agencies, or whatnot use "Xmas" rather than "Christmas." "Put the Christ back in Christmas," we say! If not, then we shall not buy your goods and services!

In this post, I am going to make a rather radical suggestion. But it is not based on my emotions, rather it is purely a suggestion of reason. I am going to go against the conservative Christians and suggest that we should, in fact, take "Christ" out of Christmas. From here forward, I am going to use "Xmas" in my blog rather than "Christmas."

Please follow these simple points to my argument:
1) Words mean things.
2) The meaning of words is best found in how we use the words.
3) The word "Christmas" in America means: A holiday celebrating how much we can all afford to spend on stuff we don't need and that other people really don't want, all in hopes of keeping the economy afloat b/c most of our excessive buying is done during this time of year and all in all we want all of us to be happy and filled with good feelings. In short, the term "Christmas" denotes the religious worship of Consumerism.
4) The above meaning is the true meaning of Christmas. (True = how we actually do it)
5) The true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with "Christ."
6) We should all acknowledge #5 and call the holiday "Xmas."
7) The "X" in Xmas can be whatever you want it to be.
8) For most of us, the "X" stands for a variable measuring the gross quantity of goods, products, and food we can consume.

The conclusion here is that "Christ" really should come out of "Christmas" This is in due respect to Christ and what he stood for. The holiday typically called "Christmas" is not about Christ, and I don't care if you go to a service, read the "Christmas story," light Jesus candles, make a donation to the United Way, or watch It's A Wonderful Life thirty times. All of these activities are good, and I can appreciate them; however, the reality is that these are side shows. We do our good deeds in order to allow ourselves the license to overindulge.

In short, Jesus is not the reason for the season....I'm going to make some bumper stickers!

26 comments:

Emily said...

Love the post, especially #8.

So what should be call what we used to call Christmas (the celebration of Christ's birth)? Celebration of Immanuel?

Or since Christ probably wasn't born in December, should we completely move the day to a more realistic one, giving it a new name like my suggestion above?

ktismatics said...

I thought the X stood for the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Christ written in Greek. So, it's kind of like saying J.C. -- shorthand for the full name.

ktismatics said...

On a somewhat related note, does anybody know what the H stands for in Jesus H. Christ?

Melody said...

In this post, I am going to make a rather radical suggestion.

Or...you're going to make the suggestion we all knew you would make when we read the title of your post. The suggestion that has been made by half a million burnt-out-on-boycotts Christians who can't stand yet another pointless crusade.

I do agree with what you're saying though.

We stole half of our Christmas traditions from pagan festivals, are we really suprised that they've failed to retain their pasted on meaning?

Why are we further surprised, to the point of anger, that people who are not Christians cannot figure out why they should care about any part of the holiday other than the bits we stole?

Growing up the debate was always over whether or not it was a sin to celebrate Christmas. Some of my friends refused because they felt it had no redemptive value. Others celebrated it, but sans presents and tree. Christmas deco was a small nativity set and some candles.

Melody said...

Incidentally, you might be interested in this article. Mr. Boyett isn't abandoning Christmas as a celebration of Christ - but he is trying to steering it back into an area where it is actually celebrating Christ's birth instead of atheist-children-get-presents-day.

http://relevantmagazine.com/releblog/jason-boyett/the-season-of-giving/

I don't know how to make a link in the comments section...so...you'll have to cut and paste.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
On a somewhat related note, does anybody know what the H stands for in Jesus H. Christ?

Well, Jesus was Jewish. So, presumably it would be some form of a Hebrew name: Hashum? Hillel? Hiram? Hezekiah? Hosea?

Daniel said...

H (?) would be for Hamashiach (sp?) or The Messiah.

The "Jewish" (Hebrew) way to say Jesus - "Yeshua Hamashiach".

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
Or...you're going to make the suggestion we all knew you would make when we read the title of your post. The suggestion that has been made by half a million burnt-out-on-boycotts Christians who can't stand yet another pointless crusade.

Fair point. Is it now cliche for Christians to take the Christ out of Christmas??? I don't know that I've seen anyone do that.

You linked to ReleBlog and Jason Boyett. He asks the following questions (italic), which I respond to:

JB: So what do we do with a cultural tradition that may have started with Jesus but doesn’t have much to do with him anymore? Maybe we subvert it by slowly turning it back toward the original emphasis.

We scrap it. We can't "subvert it." It is beyond our control. It is its own monster. Like I said in the post, giving a little more money to charity or taking one or two less presents isn't going to make a difference: It just gives us the illusion that we are good people that love Jesus. Deep down it just gives us an excuse to indulge in some other area.

Giving just makes us want to receive. We can't escape this fact of our culture. It is more fundamental than baseball or homemade apple pie.

JB: Are there ways you can give more meaningful gifts this Christmas?

No. I'm scrapping the holiday. If I really want to give, then I won't get caught up in the economy of giving. I will wait until non-holiday hours, when I am less likely to receive anything in return.....We all want to be George Bailey who strikes it rich in the end. We want to give selflessly and then get it all back at the end of the movie.

JB: Can we move beyond buying stuff we don’t really need?

No.

Is that even possible in America???? I honestly don't think so. I'm moving out of my apartment this month and I am in the process of throwing away all kinds of crap that I bought but didn't really need. What is wrong with me??? Why do I consume so much??!!?!

Emily said...

So you got the house?! Exciting!

Melody said...

Is it now cliche for Christians to take the Christ out of Christmas??? I don't know that I've seen anyone do that.

No, it's just cliche to talk about how we've already taken the Christ out of Christmas etc.

It is its own monster. Like I said in the post, giving a little more money to charity or taking one or two less presents isn't going to make a difference: It just gives us the illusion that we are good people that love Jesus.

I wasn't aware that I needed to have fewer presents to love Jesus.

On the other hand, Jesus specifcally mentions helping people in need as one of the ways we love Him.

Deep down it just gives us an excuse to indulge in some other area.

No, see here's how this works - if I give $100 to charity that's $100 less that I have available to spend on other things. Maybe they pay you too much over at Eisenbraun and you've forgotten that when you give money away - you actually have less of it.

Sometimes this can even involve cutting back on what you would normally spend.

We all want to be George Bailey who strikes it rich in the end. We want to give selflessly and then get it all back at the end of the movie.

George doesn't get it all back at the end of the movie - he just doesn't lose his house and have to send his children off to various family members so they can eat.

You're right the selfishness is sufficating.

So...you're moving?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
I wasn't aware that I needed to have fewer presents to love Jesus.

Well, that's cool. I'm glad you could learn something new here at the Theos Project.

On the other hand, Jesus specifcally mentions helping people in need as one of the ways we love Him.

Yes, but in Matthew 6, Jesus also mentions that we ought to do everything we can to escape the economy of giving that so easily sucks us in to a quid pro quo mentality:

1"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Melody: George doesn't get it all back at the end of the movie - he just doesn't lose his house and have to send his children off to various family members so they can eat.

What???!!!!??

Did you see that huge pile of cash at the end, dude!??! George came out ahead on that deal. He only had an $8,000 deficit. Our stories always end with the selfless hero getting it all back and then some. That's just good story telling, because it appeals to our desire to be good, selfless people, while deep down our greedy, dark side says, "Yea, you really do deserve to have it all paid back to you for your selfless giving."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Emily: So you got the house?!

I purchased a small little number in Winona Lake near the park. Nice location. I can hope right on to the Greenway and/or into the trails for a run.....that is, if my danged knee ever gets to feeling better.

Melody said...

Yes, but in Matthew 6, Jesus also mentions that we ought to do everything we can to escape the economy of giving that so easily sucks us in to a quid pro quo mentality:


Well by all means excercise caution so that it isn't about being seen or getting back - but I don't think that's people's main motivation. It can turn into that - but all that means is that we should be on our gaurd, not that we shouldn't give.

Our stories always end with the selfless hero getting it all back and then some.

Well in the end we will get it all back and then some...heaven and all that.

while deep down our greedy, dark side says, "Yea, you really do deserve to have it all paid back to you for your selfless giving."

Sometimes, but I don't think that's why people start out giving. They start out because the want to make the world a better place or help someone in a tight spot and then, like George Bailey, they get bitter when it seems like they're trying to so hard and all it brings is trouble. That's when people start thinking that way.

But do you really think that if at the end no one had brought the money George wouldn't have been the happier person that he was?

All George really wanted was to know he hadn't made the world a worse place - finding out that he helped people was enough for George. He was happy before he got the money.

And, the fact that something good can be twisted into a bad thing doesn't mean that we don't do the good thing even if we can't do it as well as it should be done.

If something is worth doing it's worth doing mediocre.

samlcarr said...

Thanks for a stimulating post and discussion. Funnily I've been mulling on some similar thoughts and after reading your post decided to kick off my experimentally migrated blog with this idea of double negative only my attempt that came out really dull.

It's impossible to change if we think that we have to change the culture. Obviously that's backwards. I we change our ways and enough folks follow suit, culture will have to change eventually.

At the very least we will be offering an alternative to people who may never have suspected that they actually may have a choice.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
But do you really think that if at the end no one had brought the money George wouldn't have been the happier person that he was?

All George really wanted was to know he hadn't made the world a worse place - finding out that he helped people was enough for George. He was happy before he got the money.


He was not happy, at all. He went to the bar to get drunk, yelled at his wife and kids, accosted a school teacher over the phone, tried to hook up with another chic, and nearly attempted suicide.

George Bailey was a good man, but he was a good man by man's standards. Ultimately, he wasn't about complete self-less giving. At rock bottom, George Bailey was still about George Bailey. That's the economy of giving. Most of us will absolutely not give if we know that we will get absolutely nothing in return: no gratitude, recognition, satisfaction, blessing from God, heaven to follow us in the afterlife.

M: And, the fact that something good can be twisted into a bad thing doesn't mean that we don't do the good thing even if we can't do it as well as it should be done.

Agreed. My point is just to recognize that there is no such thing as a pure gift.

M: If something is worth doing it's worth doing mediocre.

Huh?

Melody said...

He was not happy, at all. He went to the bar to get drunk, yelled at his wife and kids, accosted a school teacher over the phone, tried to hook up with another chic, and nearly attempted suicide.

Yes, but that was before he knew his life wasn't pointless.

After he knew he'd helped people, but before he knew he got the money - he was happy.

George Bailey was a good man, but he was a good man by man's standards.

Well ok, yes, and I'm not saying that's good enough by any means.

Most of us will absolutely not give if we know that we will get absolutely nothing in return: no gratitude, recognition, satisfaction, blessing from God, heaven to follow us in the afterlife.

Well, no...but I don't think God doesn't ask that of us does He?

I mean, no gratitude and no recognition and certainly heaven isn't based on the good we do...but no satisfaction? No blessing from God?

He wants us to find joy in in Him and in following His will. He hasn't called us to be miserable.

I know - it isn't always going to be satisfying - but God wants it to be satisfying.

My point is just to recognize that there is no such thing as a pure gift.

Well sure - we're flawed, nothing we do is pure, ever...but you're saying more than that. You're saying that

giving a little more money to charity...isn't going to make a difference

like somehow because we can't be Christ He can't use what we can do.

M: If something is worth doing it's worth doing mediocre.

J:Huh?


Instead of: if something's worth doing it's worth doing well...if something's worth doing it's worth doing mediocre.

If something's really worth while, like love or faith or worship, it's worth doing whether we can do it well or not.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

George didn't blow his top until he knew he was broke. I'm just looking at cause and effect. He was fine before he knew he was going broke. As long as he had a roof over his head and money for the wife/kids, he was ok with his life. Once he lost his money he said, "Screw it. I'm not really appreciated for all I do, and on top of it now I'm broke. How ridiculous is my life. I'm jumping off the bridge."

As you say, no one gives just for the sake of giving. We all have our price. We all expect something in return. The thing is that most of us conveniently forget this little fact and think of certain of our acts as selfless.

M: He wants us to find joy in in Him and in following His will. He hasn't called us to be miserable. I know - it isn't always going to be satisfying - but God wants it to be satisfying.

Ask Job about this! I don't really buy the John Piper stuff. It all sounds so conveniently American to me.

M: If something's really worth while, like love or faith or worship, it's worth doing whether we can do it well or not.

Ok. I see what you are saying. But, again, most of us (especially in religious circles) forget this fact. We tend to use our mediocre contributions as basis for thinking pretty good about ourselves and as grounds for elevating ourselves above others.

And I'll throw you a curve ball here: Even our mediocrity is self-justifying. "Oh, God. You know I'm so imperfect, but use me anyway for your glory." When we repeat this enough times in church circles it becomes code for: "God, I kind of plan on remaining mediocre, so get used to it."

Melody said...

George didn't blow his top until he knew he was broke. I'm just looking at cause and effect.

Ok - maybe you're right. I haven't watched It's A Wonderful Life yet this year. Maybe George lost perspective...I don't know. All I know is what put things back in perspective wasn't cash.

.We all expect something in return. The thing is that most of us conveniently forget this little fact and think of certain of our acts as selfless.

So, like on Seinfeld when they say being unselfish is impossible because you always get something out of it, even if it's just a good feeling?

Maybe not - it's a screwed up world. But if someone helped me out I don't think I'd begrudge them feeling good about it!

Ask Job about this!

Well - Job talks about delighting in God (27:10). I mean, he talks about God making him bitter and taking away justice - yeah I didn't miss those parts, but then he's still talking about how hypocrits have no hope because God won't hear their cry and they can't delight in Him.

I don't really buy the John Piper stuff. It all sounds so conveniently American to me.

So you think that God has saved us from sin and death to - misery? Discontent? Bitterness?

Did Jesus die an awful death on the cross so we could be - what? - spend a miserable 70-90 guilt filled years here on earth and then live happily ever after in heaven? And if so, why does Jesus talk about how He came that we could have life and have it the full?

Why does David over and over and over again talk about finding fulfillment and joy in obeying God?

We tend to use our mediocre contributions as basis for thinking pretty good about ourselves and as grounds for elevating ourselves above others.

And those thoughts are something to be aware of and to fight against. But it's the thoughts, not the mediocre contribution, that are the problem.

It wouldn't be any better if you'd had Paul elevating himself over others, rather than Susie Homemaker or Mr. 3-Car-Garage.

When we repeat this enough times in church circles it becomes code for: "God, I kind of plan on remaining mediocre, so get used to it."

Again, an attitude that should be fought against.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
So, like on Seinfeld when they say being unselfish is impossible because you always get something out of it, even if it's just a good feeling?

Maybe not - it's a screwed up world. But if someone helped me out I don't think I'd begrudge them feeling good about it!


But you would feel like you owed them something, wouldn't you???

There's no such thing as a free lunch, as they say.

M: So you think that God has saved us from sin and death to - misery? Discontent? Bitterness?

Sometimes the answer is, "yes."

M: Did Jesus die an awful death on the cross so we could be - what? - spend a miserable 70-90 guilt filled years here on earth and then live happily ever after in heaven?

I think Jesus died to set us free. Not so that we could be happy. Freedom can be difficult and miserable. Freedom can also mean depression, darkness, and angst. Freedom is an ambiguous state of being, not a specific feeling.

M: why does Jesus talk about how He came that we could have life and have it the full?

I think this means freedom. In America it means happiness, peace, joy, and contentment. So, in the absence of good feelings inside most Christians in America think that Jesus let them down. Feeling good for us in America, of course, is usually associated with having a stable, secure lifestyle, and this lifestyle usually involves having stuff.

Matt said...

Amen Brother.

(Is the above a pun, because it is a play on a cliche, or not because it can be taken literally?)

I say, "A Festivus for the rest of us!"

Melody said...

But you would feel like you owed them something, wouldn't you???

I might, but that doesn't have to be a bad feeling.

M: So you think that God has saved us from sin and death to - misery? Discontent? Bitterness?

Sometimes the answer is, "yes."


How do you come to this conclusion?

I think Jesus died to set us free.

Sort of. Free from sin, slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6).

Freedom can be difficult and miserable. Freedom can also mean depression, darkness, and angst.

I'm not saying that Christians don't experience these things, but we don't experience them because we are free.

How can it be that the fruits of the Spirit include Joy and Peace (Gal. 5:22) and Perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment (1 John 4:18) if God's called some people to be miserable?

No, He hasn't called us to easy lives. Jesus says people will hate us (John 15:18-19). Paul seems to think it probable that we will encounter rotten stuff when he promises the Romans that nothing can seperate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-38).

On the other hand Paul keeps signing off his letters to churches by hoping that they'll have joy, peace, grace, and occasionally even comfort.

Jesus tells the parable of the man selling everything he has for the joy of the teasure he's buying (Matt. 13:44).

Jesus tells the disciples to keep his commandments - that there joy may be full(John 15:9-11)

And then there's the whole sermon on the mount thing...rejoicing through pain and all that (Luke 6:20-23)

I'm sure you're capable of doing a word search yourself if you need more verses.

And I'm not going to deny the truth of this statement:

So, in the absence of good feelings inside most Christians in America think that Jesus let them down.

I just don't understand how
you've decided that desiring to be happy doing God's will - is too American.

Jonathan Erdman said...

The problem I have usually involves formulas. We think that being a Christian (or doing certain things as a Christian) will result in a certain disposition or frame of mind. For example, you did it in the above passages. You essentially said that if we have the Spirit then we will have joy and peace.

Thinking in formulas is indicative of conservative Christianity. We do this because we want predictability and safeness. We eliminate risk so that we can control our lives and our spirituality. But Aslan is not a tame lion, as someone once said.

Paul doesn't necessarily draw a formulaic conclusion when speaking to the Galatians. He says that the fruits of the spirit are..... These are fruits. According to the metaphor they are things that are generally true of the believer. I do not think Paul is suggesting that these things are always true. That would be a formula and would fit in well with American Xianity. But look at the prior list. Here Paul lists certain manifestations of the flesh. But are these manifestations always true of everyone who follows the flesh? Of course not. In fact, those who live for the flesh may even display some of the characteristics that are true of those who live by the Spirit. According to your interpretation of George Bailey, for example, he possessed love and peace!

Paul himself seemed to experience depressive states of mind (Chuck Swindoll interprets Paul as experiencing depression of some sort in 2 Cor. 1.) If this is the case, then where was the "peace" and "joy." All Paul needed to feel happy again was a little more Spirit, right??!!

I guess the point is that we experience the fruits of the Spirit at some times, but not always. Paul's instructions and exhortations were not intended to be plugged into a neat, Christian formula.

Melody said...

Alright, you need to leave poor George Bailey alone. You've already beat him up, give him some time to heal.

I'm not trying to say that God has a happily ever after formula for people to follow. If He did I expect the Bible would have rather a different tone...and Joel Osteen might be on the cover.

However, lack of formula doesn't mean that God doesn't want us to be happy...any more than having cancer means God doesn't want us to be well.

The fact that God let Satan mess with Job doesn't mean that God had it out for Job and wanted to torment him. It didn't mean Job had done anything wrong either, as Job persistantly notes.
It didn't mean God didn't want Job to be content...if Job had been content the book would be shorter and ended with, "And the Lord laughed in Satan's face."

Just because something exists doesn't mean that it's God will and we can't ask for something else. God tell us to ask Him for things. He tells us to pester Him for things.

Not something I would tell people if I were God, but I'm not.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Do you secretly think Joel Osteen is hot? Seriously. You can tell me. I can keep the secret.

Next Question. Presumably it is God's will for bad stuff to happen to us (like Job went through, only on a smaller scale). So, are you suggesting that we pray against God's will?

Or are you saying that none of the bad stuff is God's will for our lives? That God just wants us to be happy/peaceful/joyful/etc. and living in suburbia driving suburban vehicles and buying suburban toys, living in the joyous bliss of the land?

But if it is God's will for us to be happy, then why does he let bad things happen to us? Hhhhmmmm....I think I've heard that question before....let me see....why do bad things happen to good people?...ah, yes, that's the one!

Melody said...

I think Joel Osteen scares babies.

I think some bad stuff that happens is God's will. Either in a metting out death and judgement kind of way (the flood, various wars, the death of David & Bathshebba's first son), or in a "this detail becomes a handy plot device later" kind of way (Moses' poor speaking abilities, the blind man Jesus healed).

Just not every thing. Like...I don't know, I don't think it was nessacerily God's will that Saul turn out be a bum king. I mean, He knew it would happen, but clearly it didn't please Him.

Or...the events leading up to the flood, I kinda doubt it was God's will that the world be so full of rotten people...because he got rid of all those people...but He let it happen.

As for praying against God's will...I don't know how to answer this exactly. Abraham asked for God to spare Soddom and Gommorah when God had already outlined the plan to destroy them. Then again, Abraham seems to know when to stop, you don't see the passage going, "What about five righteous people, God? What about two?"

And, if you believe that Job's suffering was part of God's will you've got an entire book of Job praying against God...but then God basically just scares the snot out of Job, yells at his friends for doubting Job's righteousness, and then restores Job's wealth double.

Likewise Paul mentions having prayed against the mysterious thorn in his flesh and while it evidently wasn't in God's plans to get rid of the thing, you also don't hear Paul saying, "And God smote me for praying against His will."

Personal conclusion...I don't think it bothers God a whole lot if we pray for things He doesn't want to give us. Maybe it's better than pretending we can do things on our own. I don't know.

That God just wants us to be happy/peaceful/joyful/etc. and living in suburbia driving suburban vehicles and buying suburban toys, living in the joyous bliss of the land?

Well, eventually, kind of. I'm sure I don't know much about what heaven (or the new earth, depending on which theory you subscribe to) will be like, but it sounds like it involves peace and bliss. Maybe minus the subburban toys.

But if it is God's will for us to be happy, then why does he let bad things happen to us?

There was this girl with this fruit...now things are messed up.

I don't know, maybe I'll think about that bit some more.

samlcarr said...

"M: So you think that God has saved us from sin and death to - misery? Discontent? Bitterness?

Sometimes the answer is, "yes."

M: Did Jesus die an awful death on the cross so we could be - what? - spend a miserable 70-90 guilt filled years here on earth and then live happily ever after in heaven?

I think Jesus died to set us free. Not so that we could be happy. Freedom can be difficult and miserable. Freedom can also mean depression, darkness, and angst. Freedom is an ambiguous state of being, not a specific feeling."

I think the NT has slightly different messages to give to those who are happy and prospering as opposed to those that are in real suffering or want.

Both of Jesus's Kingdom teachings on these two different things are found in the sermon on the Mount as well as throughout the gospels.