Being Offensive

This time of year it’s common to hear Christians talking about how they’re going to insist on saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.  There is a combative stance to it oftentimes – we’re doing this as an act of defiance!  A photo is making the rounds on Facebook of a shopkeeper somewhere who posts a challenging sign in their window asserting that they will insist on saying Merry Christmas and God bless you and the like.

I understand the sentiment.  When freedom of speech and freedom of religion is under so much criticism these days, it can feel as though Christians are a minority that is fighting against an imposing tyranny.  But this frankly defeats the whole purpose of saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or anything at all in the first place.

We need to remember that we are not engaging in guerilla activity, we are (as Christians) praying a form of blessing on the other person.  We don’t do that in order to anticipate a critical response so that we can retort with Jesus is the reason for the season or something like that.  We are offering a definitive, specific prayer for that person, that their Christmas might be merry.  If they don’t celebrate Christmas, they’ll understand what you hoped to convey.  I’ve yet to meet someone that explodes at anger and indignation at me when I say Merry Christmas to them.  How many of you have had this happen to you?  Statistics remain pretty firm that the overwhelming majority of Americans consider themselves some stripe of Christian.  Keep that in mind and don’t be afraid.  If the other person gets upset, who is really the one being mean-spirited and unpleasant – you or them?

We’re told that we need to stifle our own beliefs and preferences in order to respect the beliefs and preferences of others.  This is, of course, rather impossible.  I can’t possibly know that my bank teller is Jewish rather than Christian, or that my grocery store clerk is atheist rather than Christian.  What I can do is offer them something good based on truth.  For the Christian that is bound up part and parcel with our identity in Christ.

That’s why I can’t understand things like this, where a Christian official insists that Christian symbols should be removed in order to placate Muslim refugees.  A similar situation is described in Germany here.  Of course the details are sketchy – but it would appear to be an active parish that is offering their church to house refugees.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with that per se.  But it is ridiculous to pretend that it isn’t a church that is housing them, that it isn’t a congregation of Christians moved by gratitude to God to offer their buildings to those in need.

We don’t do these things to shove our religion in people’s faces.  We say Merry Christmas out of joy and a desire to share good will with other people.  We offer assistance to those in need because they are in need and we are able to.  Those who wish to turn these acts into acts of aggression have a lot of hoops to jump through – more than they are actually able to reasonably in my opinion.  And most people don’t view them as acts of aggression.

You may work for a company or attend a school where you aren’t allowed to say these phrases.  Or you may be required to say them to customers or clients.  But if you’re shopping in the grocery store, nobody is forcing you to say Seasons Greetings instead of Merry Christmas.  Say what seems best to you – not as an act of war, but as an act of blessing, remembering that we can’t control how the other person receives it, but we need to guard carefully the spirit in which we say it.


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