A number of years ago, I was standing at a Salvation Army Christmas kettle in down­town Victoria. As people passed by and dropped change in the bucket, I greeted and thanked them. Sometimes I said, “Merry Christmas,” especially if the donor said it to me first. But most of the time, I went with a universal acknow­ledgment like “Happy Holidays.” As my shift ended and a staff member from my ministry unit took over, a man wear­ing a yarmulke dropped in a $20 bill. I thanked him and wished him a “Happy Hanukkah.” He smiled and said, “Merry Christmas.”

The employee who came to relieve me seemed bewildered. I knew little about him except that he wanted to work for the Army because it was a Christian organization. As he looked at me, I sensed he was bristling about the last exchange.

“Shouldn't we be saying 'Merry Christmas'?” he asked. “I mean, we are Christians, after all.”

“Who was the greeting for?” I replied. He seemed confused by my question. It made sense to me. “When I wish some­one a 'Merry Christmas,' I'm saying I hope they have a great Christmas cele­bration. It's a neighbourly wish, not a creedal statement,” I told him.

“So why would I wish someone a great Christmas when I have no reason to believe they even celebrate it? Is it to antagonize them? Is it to assert the pri­macy of my faith? Is that what peace and goodwill toward humanity look like?”

Perhaps it wasn't fair of me to pepper him with questions, but I wanted him to think about the message he was sending.

Over the last few years, we've heard a lot in the media about a supposed “war” on Christmas. The rhetoric claims that Christ is being pushed out of Christmas, and that this is part of a larger assault on our faith. We often retaliate by blitz­ing our social media pages with “I'm keeping Christ in Christmas” memes and warn everyone to prepare to hear “Merry Christmas,” whether they cele­brate it or not.

When you think about it, this whole notion of a war against Christmas (or even our faith for that matter) is kind of silly. It's peddled by the media and those with a political agenda and we fall for it. Why? Because it appeals to our identity as a persecuted people.

For many of us, our faith is built on the notion that to be a Christian is to be mistreated. I heard that message in Sunday school, training college and many times since then. Scripture verses, writ­ten to believers in a very different time and place, are taken out of context and applied to us. Being persecuted is seen as a validation of our faith. No wonder we want to see this devil behind every bush.

But the fact of the matter is that Christians are more likely to encoun­ter apathy than hostility in our soci­ety. If there is such a thing as a war on Christmas, it is likely because of our own doing rather than the efforts of those indifferent toward us. We bemoan the secularization of our religious holiday, even while we participate in the ram­pant materialism that comes with it. We allow the deep meaning and mes­sage of Christmas to become muted by the crassness of consumerism. But Christmas is a perfect opportunity for Jesus' subversive message of “others” to draw attention to our unhealthy self-obsession.

The Christmas story, in the language of John's Gospel, is about light coming into our dark world. The story of the Wise Men visiting Jesus reminds us that the light is for all people, not only the Jews, but Gentiles as well. The pres­ence of the shepherds reminds us that the gospel is especially for the poor and marginalized. Jesus' escape from the clutches of Herod conveys the message that political systems that oppress and exploit people do not have the final say. Christmas is about the advent of a new kingdom of justice and peace on earth.

Does persecution happen to believ­ers? Yes. Sometimes it is real and severe. But to pretend what we face in the West is equivalent to real hardship is insult­ing to those who truly hurt. Let's stop the self-serving rhetoric of persecution and victimhood. Let us instead bring light into the dark corners of our world. Let's care for the poor and suffering this month and in the days ahead. That is really keeping Christ in Christmas.

Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Rotary Hospice House in Richmond, B.C. This is his last column and we are grateful for his contributions this year.


On Saturday, December 5, 2015, celebrity websites list said:

Thank you so much for these heartening words! Let us show love to all people, regardless of their religious background. Let us see them as created in the Image of God, rather than "us" versus "them."

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