God's Politics

In the days before this Christmas Day, the so-called “Christmas wars” were again in full swing. Should the clerks at Target say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas?” Can Christmas trees be displayed in airports and other public places? Can they have religiously-themed ornaments? Lots of ink and airtime are spent debating these questions. It is actually all very humorous – the battle has long been lost, but to the forces of capitalist consumerism, not secular humanism.

Last week, I happened to come across a Census Bureau “ Facts for Features – The Holiday Season” press release. Among other fascinating facts, it showed that in December 2005, retail sales by the nation’s department stores totaled $31.7 billion. The nation’s tree farmers received $485 million in Christmas tree sales, and $605 million worth of Christmas tree ornaments were imported from China.

Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling book, The God Delusion, was recently quoted in a New York Times piece titled, An Atheist Can Believe in Christmas. He said, “So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”

So, this Christmas as most others, rather than go to the mall, I will send special checks as gifts to organizations whose ministries I trust. Then, I’ll put on Handel’s Messiah, and listen to these words from Isaiah: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” And I’ll read Luke 2: “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

That is the meaning of Christmas no tree can symbolize and no shopping mall can sell.

Duane Shank is senior policy adviser for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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