One of my favorite holiday movies is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, especially the new Jim Carrey version. Dr. Seuss invented a character that became so wildly popular, he’s now a cliche (i.e. “Don’t be such a grinch!”). Anyone who puts a damper on the holidays falls into the grinch category.
As a Pastor, I’m immersed (often beyond my own comfort level) in what I’ve come to think of as the Christian subculture. This is the realm in which Christian believers live. We have our own music, our own bookstores, and our own schools. None of this is bad. I read “Christian” books, listen to “Christian” music, and send my kiddo’s to a “Christian” school. The problem comes when we begin to assume that, based on America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, our Christian subculture is actually THE one and only acceptable culture for all.
Somewhere around the Thanksgiving holiday, I start getting emails from alarmed Christian citizens who are outraged at the all out assault on our faith that consists of such brutal persecution tactics as forcing us to be greeted with a friendly “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” rather than our traditional, more Christocentric “Merry Christmas.” These friendly folks who dare to leave the name of the Savior out of their otherwise friendly greetings are… grinches, as are the retailers who refuse to advance their commercial and materialistic “sales” using the name of Christ, or the lawyers who file for injunctions against public displays of internally-lit plastic statues of the biblical nativity characters.
This bunch of grinches has the gaul to assert that even those who don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, sent as the Savior of the world, should not be expected to use His name in spite of their unbelief. After all, 99% of Americans are true, born again believers… right? (Hint: Nobody agrees on the actual percentage because of disagreements over the theological grounds for the label “Christian”, but 99% is waaaayyy off.)
But are we, in our rather demanding viewpoints in our Christian subculture, the actual grinches in this story?
This past weekend, my family picked a movie off of Netflix none of us had ever heard of before: Christmas With a Capital “C”. The acting wasn’t necessarily the greatest, but the storyline was at least slightly unpredictable. And there was a memorable line uttered that resonated with my own feelings about our Christian activism. The city council in the setting of a small Alaskan town was struggling with their response to an injunction against the display of a nativity on city property. Many of the believers in town were outraged that their long-held tradition had been challenged by a liberal, interloping lawyer. But one participant at the table gave voice to a different value… “Maybe we Christians should spend less time demanding our own rights and traditions and more time serving people in the name of Christ.”
I know I’m going against the grain here, as a Christian, but I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I don’t want stores to feel they have to plaster the name of Christ over every holiday bargain. I don’t want us so focused on defending the display of our nativity scenes (which never, by the way, depict the nativity biblically anyway) that we ultimately shout at our Muslim, Jewish, atheistic, and other non-Christian neighbors to get their noses out of our business and be on their way.
I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the virgin born, sinless Son of God, sent to die on the cross for our sins, who rose again and is returning someday to establish a reign of peace and justice for all of eternity. He is the One and only Savior of the world, the One and only “way” to the Father (see John 14:6), and the One and only Redeemer who can possibly atone for the sins of mankind against our Creator.
And as His follower, sent to love people outside the faith, I’m going to make room in my Christmas celebration for my Muslim neighbors, my atheist neighbors, my Jewish neighbors, my Hindu neighbors, and anybody else who doesn’t share my traditions.
I’m not arguing that we should in any way compromise our beliefs about Jesus. I simply think that our belief in the biblical Jesus demands that we refuse to become the grinches in the story of our culture. Which is the better way to influence the very people whom Jesus died to save? To take our angry demands to court and the editorial sections, shouting in the faces of our enemies? Or to walk as the Savior Himself might have, loving our neighbors as ourselves, praying for them and being a blessing to them, even when it means making room for unfamiliar traditions alongside our own?
It boils down to two possible goals. If our goal is to preserve our own traditions and protect our Christian subculture while the world goes to hell, then by all means, the fight is on. But if our goal is to balance truth and grace to lovingly influence our surrounding world for Jesus’ sake, perhaps we should strive for a better approach.
Christian… don’t be a grinch.