Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christ in Christmas

In the past few years, it seems that there has been a rise in the concern about "keeping Christ in Christmas." There are two specific instances that people who share this concern lift up as their proof that this is a valid worry.

The first is the use of Xmas instead of Christmas. They think that the X is crossing out Christ, and thus taking him out of the holiday. If we come at it from a U.S. centric viewpoint it is easy to see why this might be the case. An X is often what we use to mark things off of a list, or to negate something. So, I can understand why it might be a concern for some people when they see the X instead of Christ. But what we need to do is broaden
our viewpoint a bit. We need to realize that USAmericans do not have the corner of the market on Christ and, in fact, people believed in Jesus and worshiped him for thousands of years before we were even a country.

The New Testament is what tells us what we know about the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus Christ. It was originally written in Greek. The Greek word for Christ, which means Savior, is Χριστός or Christos. The first two letters the Χ and the ρ, or the Chi and the Rho are sometimes used to represent Christ. Like this picture, for instance:
Sometimes, it is just shortened to the X, or the Chi. That is why Christmas is sometimes abbreviated as Xmas. It's not an attempt to take Christ out of Christmas. It is using a Greek symbol to represent Christ, which is something that has been done for around 1,000 years. Use it if you want to. If you don't want to, then don't. But please don't assume that the people who do use it are pushing some sort of anti-Jesus agenda. I use it sometimes, and I'm one of the most pro-Jesus people you'll come across.

The second thing is the argument against "Happy Holidays." People seem to believe that we should always say "Merry Christmas" because that is what the holiday is this time of year. Now, I love Christmas and I love to celebrate. So, I love to celebrate Christmas. But I know people who are not Christian. They might be Jewish, or Muslim or even atheist. But, for whatever reason, not all of my friends celebrate Christmas in the same way that I do, or at all. To say, "Merry Christmas!" to my Jewish friend would not be the best thing to say to her since she celebrates Hanukkah and not Christmas. In the same way, in a store or walking down the street, just by looking at someone I cannot discern if they are Christian or Jewish or Muslim, or if they celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or maybe nothing at all. To assume that they are Christian or celebrate Christmas could be insulting or offensive. People might say that this is a Christian nation, but, truthfully, our country has no official religion. It was formed on the principle of freedom of religion, so that people could be free to worship how and when and what they choose. Just because I am a big fan of Jesus and I celebrate Christmas does not mean that everyone else is or does. So, to people who I know share the same beliefs as me, I wish them a Merry Christmas. If I know that they are of a different faith background, or am unsure, I will often choose to go with Happy Holidays in an attempt to respect where they are at, and to acknowledge that Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated at this time of year, not as an attempt to forget about Christmas.

We are a diverse country, and I think we will continue to diversify. We need to figure out how to live together in peaceful and healthy ways. Part of living together is respecting where people are at and what they believe. I think saying Happy Holidays is a good way to do that this time of year. Now, I know not everyone agrees with me. And, since this is a free country, you are indeed allowed to say Merry Christmas all you want. But, as I said, this is a free country and so we need to respect everyone else's freedom to live and celebrate how they choose.

So, this is how I feel about these two arguments. I don't think they are really anything to get worked up about. I think, if we are concerned about people trying to get rid of Christ, then we need to live our lives in such a way that positively reflects Christ, and in that way show everyone how our lives are enriched by knowing and believing in Jesus. Getting up in arms about the words people use, and arguing about it or trying to force people to see things or do things our way is not a constructive use of our time. Reaching out and helping others, caring for their needs, actually BEING the hands and feet of Christ in the world... now THAT is how we should be spending our time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dedicating my life

When I think of my faith journey, and when I became a child of God, my mind is drawn to a summer many years ago. I must have been eleven or so years old and I was at Camp Rock, a camp of the American Missionary Fellowship, out in the western end of Nebraska (no, it wasn't a performing arts camp like the movies on the Disney Channel). I, the pastor's son, had gone on the invitation of my best friend who really didn't have any ties to a church, at least that I knew of.

It was in the later part of the week and the entire camp was gathered around a large bonfire. We were singing songs and having a good time when one of the counselors walked forward. She was carrying a bundle of branches in her arms. She stood before us and invited us to come forward, as we felt called, and to take one of these branches and to toss it in the fire as we declared in front of the rest of the camp that we were dedicating our lives to God.

Now, this was not something with which I was familiar. The community of German Lutherans, to which I belonged, did not do this on a Sunday morning. But, as camper after camper, kids I had gotten to know and befriend during the week, stepped forward, accepted a branch and then tossed it in as they dedicated their lives to God, I began to feel something stir.

Mustering my courage, I walked up to the counselor, took a branch and with a wavering voice said, "My name is Mark Lepper and I dedicate my life to God." As I tossed my branch into the fire, I felt great. When I got home from camp a day or two later, I could not wait to tell my Dad what I had done.

"Hey, Dad! Guess what I did at camp!"

He looked at me and asked, "What?" He was probably assuming I was going to tell him something like I had accidentally shot my counselor during archery or how I managed to not come in dead last in the foosball tournament.

I proudly declared, "I dedicated my life to God!"

"Oh," he replied. "That already happened at your baptism."

That is when it all started for me. It wasn't a choice I made on my own, fueled by the excitement and joy of a bonfire at camp, or because all of the kids who I thought were cool and popular were doing it. It wasn't my decision at all.

It was when the water and the word washed over me, removing all traces of my old, sinful self and filled me with the Holy Spirit. It is when the clouds parted and the Spirit descended and God broke into my life and said, "Mark Bradley Lepper, You are My son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased!"

That is when I became a child of God.
That is when God staked a claim on me and my life.
And I have never been the same since.