Christmas Reflections Part 3 – Have Yourself a Snobby Little Christmas

Warning  – if you don’t get sarcasm – Stop reading ;-)

I was done talking about this but from various conversations and looking at facebook status updates, I guess I’m not ready to drop this.  What is it about Christian holidays that gets everyone so angry? Is it all the talk of peace? Is it the joy to the world blessings? Is it the adorable personalities like Santa, Rudolph, and Buddy the Elf?

I know that people have a lot emotionally invested in the Christmas holiday. I realize that for most people, it’s an important part of their childhood. And for many there is a longing to return to the way things were – whatever that means. Further, as a Christian, I certainly understand its significance. But because I do, I find myself restraining my frustration from those that get angry this time of year. It seems obvious that our responses should be joyful and grateful.

The other day while standing in line at Barnes and Noble, I heard a couple of people venting about how terrible all the tacky lights on people’s trees inside and outside.   One noticed the book I was holding was spiritual and a conversation began. Wouldn’t you know it – they were fellow Christians. “What has happened to this holiday?” the one asked me.  I tried consoling them by saying, “Well, what do you expect when you borrow from pagan traditions?” but that only seemed to upset them further. Really, what do you say? “Yeah, you know what Leviticus says about that mixing colors on trees.” or “That’s why I stopped celebrating the coming of Jesus.”. To fit in, I guess I should have said, “That’s why this country is going straight to hell. Why when I was growing up, everyone celebrated Christmas and only used red and green lights, like Mary and Joseph did.  And then we’d all go and build a church, and then an orphanage, and then a Christian ice cream parlor.  After we were done, we’d drink some hot chocolate (at the ice cream parlor) then go caroling in the nursing homes in Antarctica. Those were the days.”

I couldn’t help but think they were snobby. To retaliate, I didn’t invite them to our Christmas Eve services (Yeah, what’s up? Who’s snobbier now? ;-)

Someone else had made passing comment to me regarding the title of a message that I was going to preach, “Incarnation and Imagination: What Elf, Charlie Brown Christmas, and the Gospel of Luke can Teach Us About Christmas”.  (See all I gained from Pete Enns.  I know this reference only works for a few people). Anyway, it was for our Second Mile service which is a monthly Saturday night service geared for those in their 20’s and 30’s. Unfortunately we had to cancel the service because of the snow but it was probably going to me my best message ever. Now we’ll never know. Anyway, I am sure this person was just making conversation with me and it was not an attempt to critique the title but the comment implied that it wasn’t suitable for a holiday so sacred. I was like, “What’s wrong with the Gospel of Luke?”.

Again, I thought that was a bit snobby. To be spiteful, I think next year I will add National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to the title. (That’s how we roll in Montvale. Shove that in your stocking. ;-)

Although I give a lot of evidence to the contrary, I can be a pretty serious and reflective person. I love Christmas. I love its meaning. I love its beauty and I love much of what surrounds it, including the cheesy decorations, odd characters, and some really hard to sing carols. What I despise is when we take the peripherals of it too seriously.  I suppose I am sensitive to that because that used to accurately describe me.

There was a time where anything that did not scream “holy, Holy, HOLY!” seemed like an attempt to cheapen Christmas to me.  I really felt I was honoring God more by “guarding” the sanctity of the holiday if I condemned the non-sacred elements of it.  All I could talk about was the commercialization of the holiday and how it had lost its high place in the American landscape.  And while I was always annoyed of when someone would call Santa, Satan, it bothered me that kids wrote letters to the fat man as opposed to offering prayers to the Almighty One.

I am not sure what exactly the turning point for me was but it had a lot to do with observing the time of Advent.  I know this now – taking the time to prepare my heart for Christmas allowed me to take in more of the joy of the holiday.  It allowed me to look at the rich and beautiful meaning of Jesus’ coming and it offered me a healthier way of celebrating it.  It even opened my eyes to enjoying our feeble attempts of demonstrating our happiness.  I found myself not taking everything about it so seriously, yet still loving God more for the purpose of His coming.  It’s probably not a coincidence that I stared loving the movie Elf.  To me, Elf is not just a hilarious character played by Will Ferrell but also the child-like response of the innocent in love with the amazing.  (And yes, Ferrell is hilarious).

We shouldn’t take every treat every aspect of our spirituality so seriously. Indeed, humor can degrade important matters but it’s also used in celebration. For example, a birthday party. Because we cannot always hire carolers to sing on our front lawns all day (although that would help unemployment), we hang up lights. Because the human heart cannot literally talk about Jesus all day, we create characters like Santa (based off a Saint that provided for orphans), Rudolph (based off a children’s story of acceptance) and Buddy (who I think is based off a monk in the 4th century who was raised by … ok, I’m making that one up) but to help remind us to keep the “holiday spirit”. Because the lighting and relighting of the advent wreath at some point loses its beauty (and becomes a potential fire hazard), we watch the Christmas Story and Miracle on 34th Street. And yes, a twenty foot blow-up Homer Simpson is now part of Christmas and according to some neighborhoods, he was a part of the Magi.

No one will have any trouble convincing me that some have removed Jesus totally from Christmas, but a few things are worth mentioning here. One is that Jesus would not respond with anger and frustration but instead with grace and love. Two, we Christians remove Jesus from His own holiday when we fight over Christmas rather then just celebrate and graciously share it.  And lastly, Christmas can never be taken away. Its redemptive meaning are for all those who dare to come from wherever they are and celebrate.

Reflecting on President Obama's Speech From Cairo University

This blog is not intended to be political but politics have certainly captured my attention lately.  Nor did I think I’d be talking about Obama as much as I am but you cannot ignore what he’s saying and doing. So when President Obama addresses the world from the University of Cairo, people take notice, especially a first-generation Egyptian born in the States whose parents graduated from the university.  I am proud of my Egyptian heritage, extremely grateful that my parents immigrated here, and I love the fact that I’m in NJ (we tell everyone that it sucks here and jack up the housing prices to keep the southerners out ;-) but truth be told, it’s a great part of the country to live in).

America has an image problem.  It’s almost as bad as the Western Church’s.  Some had the idea that by combining the two, we could help the world and whether the world was truly helped or not is another discussion; many throughout the world have a terrible perception of America. As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my friends’ blogs, through countless great theological works of theology and most importantly, the New Testament, we as Christians are called to serve a different Kingdom first.  That said, I believe the problems in and out of American are of great importance.  

It’s in this light that Obama’s speech is extremely important.  Taking on topics such as Islam, fanaticism, terrorism, Israel, Palestine, and others is a bold task when you are perceived as the representative of a nation of hateful manipulators and greedy instigators of these topics.  While I have profound differences with that perception, I do understand how and why many believe it to be. 

He proclaimed that he was a Christian, spoke of his Muslim father and quoted various holy books.  From the Koran he said, “Whoever kills an innocent person kills all mankind.  Whoever saves a person saves all mankind.”  He spoke against hate and terrorism.  He promoted safety for all, American and those throughout the Middle East.  He spoke about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.  He called for nuclear disarmament, spoke on the greatness and limits of democracy, women’s rights and all basic human rights, including religious freedom. Everyone was called out for we are all part of the problem and responsibility calls us all to resolve and peace. 

To my conservative brother and sisters who are convinced that he played to the Muslim crowd, you must not have heard the speech.  Please listen to it first (you can watch it here or read the full transcript here). Had George W gave it (and he could have), I suspect that it would have been praised by conservatives.  I’m sure W has said similar things, but he said so many other things that I doubt many heard it and frankly he wasn’t eloquent enough to remember.  Still, there’s a probably a posting by National Review or Human Events or somewhere outlining the similarities that W had said with today’s speech. To me, that discussion is a waste of time and I only mention it to head it off. If we as Christians truly believe that we are of a greater Kingdom, one concerned with the other, one that loves, one that preaches Christ, then I’m not sure how we cannot champion the words of today.

But as we all know, you can say all the right things but the key is in the follow up.  My hope is that Obama can put these noble words into action in the capacity afforded to him.  My hope is also that the Muslim world will do the same.  And this goes the same for the Christian world, the non-Christian, you and me. I say it again -everyone has been called out.  We are all part of the problem, may we also be a part of the solution – for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

For more reading, here are some worthy links:

Arab Students Respond to Obama 

Commentary: Amen, Mr. President – Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of, and contributing editor for Islamica magazine in Washington.

Obama Calls for Fresh Start With Muslims 

Video reaction – Muslims Wants Deeds, Not Just Words from Obama

Drawing on Islam, Speech in Cairo Electrifies Many In Arab Mideast 

Muslims Seem Won Over by President; U.S. Adversaries Unmoved

Full Video Here 

Full Text Here