For several years I have fluctuated between annoyance and amusement over the so-called “battle for Christmas.”
To read the propaganda put out by certain faith ministries, you would think a full-scale war had been declared on the Christian faith by secular heathens.
Turns out, the whole skirmish is about what happens in department stores and shopping malls during the Christmas shopping season.
The battle is about clerks saying “Happy Holidays,” thereby conforming to so-called political correctness and siding with the enemy.
The watchdog ministries that track these trends want clerks to say “Merry Christmas.”
Apparently these two words spoken by check-out clerks will save the faith from the secularists who would strip us of our great Christian heritage – while shopping.
Let me state in no uncertain terms that the faith is not in jeopardy from what happens at the mall.
There is a good chance that ministries who champion these causes are stoking the flames of false controversy as a way of raising money. And so it all seems to come back to shopping and spending.
I would like to suggest an alternative struggle – and I am not seeking any funds for my cause.
I would like to suggest that the real battle for Christmas is being lost in homes and churches – not in department stores. It makes no difference to the future vitality of the Christian faith what clerks at the point of sale say to us.
It makes all the difference in the world what we say to our children and grandchildren about Christmas, and what happens in our churches.
In our church we make full use of the visual and auditory imagery available to us during the season of Advent and Christmas.
We light candles on an Advent wreath, thus tracking the longing of people from long ago who waited for the Messiah to come.
We ring bells and sing songs of joyful celebration. We sing the great hymns and carols of our faith, some of those hymns having been in use for hundreds of years.
We erect Chrismon trees, decorating them not with baubles and snowflakes, but rather with symbols that point to the meaning of Jesus coming into the world.
Our children see shepherds and sheep, crosses and stars, magi and mangers. Not too many “Reduced for Quick Sale” banners, however.
What is the source of this strange longing on the part of believers to have their faith affirmed in shopping venues?
What is happening or not happening in church that has created the need in the lives of so many to find fulfillment for their faith in places no one would have ever dreamed of looking?
This year will offer us an interesting opportunity to observe the decline of the church in full force. This year Christmas Day falls on a Sunday.
How many among those who have clamored for retail outlets to carry the Christian message will be in church on Christmas Day?
How many church leaders, knowing the numbers of worshippers will be decimated by the force of a religious holiday lost in the wilderness of shopping, will cancel services rather than preach in near empty sanctuaries?
One poll suggests nearly four out of 10 churches will cancel Sunday morning services on Christmas Day. Christmas Day!
It’s time and past time to stop expecting department stores and shopping malls to proclaim our faith. The responsibility for that lies much closer to church and home than many may care to admit.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).