Christmas Scares Them

This Christmas, thank God the culture is so set against mentioning Christ.

After you get angry about it, we mean.

Christians in 2004 America find themselves in a situation that a reader summed up rather nicely. “A few years ago we were asked to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas,’” wrote Ed Lynch of West Nyack, N.Y. “Now it seems we should ask to ‘Keep Christmas in Christmas.’”

The Catholic League has noticed the same thing — and has kept a record.

Fontana, Calif., skipped Christmas and celebrated a Festival of Winter this year. Said Catholic League President Bill Donohue, “Santa Claus, who is not associated with anything other than Christmas, was inexplicably present … and there was a tree lighting ceremony, though no one said why trees are lighted in December.”

Chapel Hill, N.C., sponsored a “Holiday Parade” and “Community Sing and Tree Lighting,” as part of “a series of holiday events.”

Glendale, Ohio, had a Holiday Walk on the Village Square.

Historic Franklin, Mich., has held an annual Holly Day Festival for years. This year, they dropped the word “holly,” because holly suggests Christmas.

In Kansas, the Catholic League found the following correction in The Wichita Eagle newspaper: “A story in Monday's paper referred to a tree that was lighted at Tuesday's Winterfest celebration as a ‘Christmas tree.’ In an effort to be inclusive, the city is actually referring to this tree as the ‘Community Tree.’”

Does it seem that there is excessive shame, or worry, about mentioning Christ's name? Does it make you angry? It made rapper Kanye West angry, too.

He was recently nominated for 10 Grammy awards. His hit song “Jesus Walks” is laced with profanity, but its basic message is summed up in lines like these: “The way schools need teachers / The way Kathy Lee needed Regis / That's the way I need Jesus.” In it, he makes the point that everybody needs Jesus.

Since he's no Christian music artist, a reporter on CBS news' “60 Minutes II” asked West how people reacted to the new song when he recorded it.

Said the rapper, “People would be like, ‘Yo, it's the best song I ever heard, but it'll never make it on radio,’ and it frustrated me, so the second verse I wrote about how they say you can't say Jesus on radio … The word Jesus was like saying [the ‘N-word’]… It's gonna offend people for you to say Jesus.”

He's right. People are very offended if you use God's name respectfully — though, ironically, it's socially acceptable to use it in vain.

But this should give us great hope.

Why? Because there was a time, not so long ago, when you could speak about Christ much more freely — in part, because fewer people took him seriously.

The word “Christmas” didn't offend the irreligious element in society back then. Nativity scenes in public didn't make agnostics rage. These things were harmless references to a quaint old story. Science was the new vehicle for answering men's questions and many people assumed it would soon eclipse religion altogether, just as it had done in Europe. In the meanwhile, why complain about old pious stories?

But it didn't turn out that way in the United States.

If anything, the past decade has seen signs of a religious revival. First it was the high school students who would burst into prayer at school-sponsored events as school officials looked on, horrified. Then it was the rise of the Christian shadow-culture, with its own music, books and videos that became such a major business force in the 1990s. Now, in 2004 alone, in addition to the success of “Jesus Walks,” The Passion of the Christ became a blockbuster movie and a groundswell of support by Christians was credited for the president's re-election.

Jesus isn't so harmless anymore. Suddenly, the word “Christmas” doesn't fall on the ear of the culture like a quaint harking back to a sweet old story. Now, it's more likely to be a direct challenge to the listener, because it refers to a particular person — a radical, polarizing person who can't be ignored.

This has actually brought our culture closer to the ethos of the first Christmas. That first Christmas wasn't so sweet, really: Christ's coming was brutally opposed by Herod, who had soldiers kill baby boys because he wanted Christ dead.

If Christ's name is making our neighbors uncomfortable again, we can thank God. It means they're taking him seriously. And it means they need to hear from us how they can overcome their fear and find much to receive from the newborn King.