Last Christmas, a British bakery chain apologized after producing an ad depicting a Nativity scene with the wise men praising not the baby Messiah but a sausage roll. Little did the company realize what an uproar this would cause, with the powerful British tabloids joining various conservative Christians to denounce yet another example of the alleged war on Christmas.
Here, reality cries out to be heard. This was merely a slightly crass campaign to sell meat products. Moreover, there is not, and never has been, a war on Christmas. If there is a religious war, it is an attack against the virtues that the child and his arrival are supposed to epitomize — ironically, a charge led by some Christians and churches themselves.
Some of the loudest and most active Christians are socially conservative and have harsh opinions about what is new and challenging. They can be obsessed with issues such as abortion and homosexuality, which are hardly touched on in the New Testament. What is expressed in those chapters is love for our neighbours.
Christ teaches that authentic devotion to God can only be demonstrated by this love — one that demands social justice, a passion for the marginalized and a revolutionary understanding of power and morality. If he condemns anyone, it is those in authority who obscure love under law and who disguise the kingdom behind formalities and regulations. Instead of opening the doors wide, they close them and bolt them tight.
One powerful leader of North American Christianity who claims a war is being waged on Christmas is Franklin Graham, the eldest son of the famed evangelist Billy. He has also reportedly said that Islam is an “evil” and “wicked” religion and warned Christian parents about inviting “gay children” into their homes and churches because Satan “wants to devour this nation.”
What Graham and others seem to consider “Christmas” is actually tinselled nostalgia mingled with the self-prescribed right of Christians to dominate the public square and dictate the private conscience.
What should anger Christians at Christmas is that Jesus’ teachings are being taken in vain, distracting us from the fact that millions of people go without food. Maybe we don’t say “Merry Christmas” as often as we once did, but the bigger issue is that we so seldom say “I forgive you,” “You are loved” and “All are welcome.”
And regarding that once-ubiquitous question, “What would Jesus do?” The answer would probably be, “Tell everyone to reread what the New Testament actually says and then go and turn the world upside down — not just at the end of December, but every day of the year.” Merry Christmas, everyone.