As Christmas approaches, itís not hard to remember the ďculture warĒ that was generated over the ďChristmasĒ versus ďholidayĒ greetings last year. In an increasingly secularized culture, some on the extreme left shudder with any mention of faith in the public square. But in all fairness, the right made the issue into a weapon as well Ė particularly when it came to fundraising.
During the Christmas season, our faith intersects with the culture around us in a very grand way that doesnít happen any other time of the year. Through Christmas musicals, holiday decorations, caroling, nativity scenes, special religious events and more, we have a great opportunity to express our faith to neighbors and friends without shame or embarrassment.
But sadly, much of the Christmas spirit has become routine, and in most communities across the country, weíve settled for mere ďholidayĒ celebrations, and focused more on the commercial side of the season. When my daughters were in public high school, they were constantly amazed at how few students knew what Christmas was actually about, or had any idea about the real meaning of the nativity. Iím afraid that our culture is rapidly becoming illiterate about the real purpose of the holiday.
Although the true reason for Christmas has taken a beating, itís far from gone, and this year, we have the opportunity once again to remind the culture what Christmas is all about. Here are some tips:
1. Donít be afraid to express your faith in the community or public square. Because of recent court rulings regarding church and state, too many Christians shy away from anything remotely religious at Christmastime Ė especially in public. But your personal faith is something you have the right to express, and when you decorate your yard, go caroling, or send out cards, use those times as an opportunity to show people the real story of the season. If you have questions about staging a major event on public property, ask an attorney for advice, or contact the American Center for Law and Justice (www.aclj.org) for information.
2. Be gracious. Too many Christians become bullies when it comes to expressing their faith. Stop arguing with people, and begin developing a relationship of compassion and trust. Growing up in the 50ís and 60ís in the South, I didnít know anyone of another faith. But today I donít have to go far to meet people with a multitude of different religious beliefs. If Iím going to be an effective witness in todayís world, I have to begin with a gracious relationship and act out of genuine love.
3. Be confident but courteous at your office or school about expressing your faith. The fine legal line about expressions of religious belief at our workplace and at public schools is often difficult to navigate, but in many cases, people who crossed the line, did it without asking for advice or counsel. Talk to the school principal or choir director and ask their policy on singing Christmas carols at the school play. Or ask your boss if you can set a nativity scene or other religious object on your desk. Iíve discovered that when we approach people in a spirit of respect, those situations almost always work out for good. And even if your request is rejected, how you handle that rejection can sometimes be a greater witness than what you hoped to accomplish in the first place.
4. Finally, itís not Santaís fault. Too many Christians blame Santa for distracting people from the real story of the incarnation. Obviously Santa Claus isnít the reason for the season, but donít rob your children from the joy of giving and experiencing the wonder and excitement of the big guy in the red suit. Plus, giving gifts is a fantastic common ground to begin a discussion with a non-Christian about Godís ultimate gift. Letís lighten up and enjoy the North Pole, the reindeer, and the anticipation of the sound of hooves on the roof at midnight. But never forget to teach your children and grandchildren the real story of the greatest gift of all.
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