The other day I went to the post office to buy a lot of stamps. It’s the time of year when we send out a lot of cards, so I wanted to be sure we had the right stamps for each one. For our religious friends receiving a Christmas card, I bought the religious holiday stamps with the Holy Family on them. For our friends who celebrate Christmas, but only because of the secular connotations, I bought the Santa stamps. And for our friends receiving Hannukah cards, I bought Hannukah stamps.
I left the post office with three books of stamps and with no fear whatsoever that Christmas was under attack. This time of year the “war on Christmas” rhetoric heats up, and we hear that rallying cry of the concerned: “Keep Christ in Christmas!” And Christmas is about Christ to me. It’s a holy and beautiful time of year, and I feel my spiritual life deepen tremendously every December. But, my spiritual life does not dictate the spiritual lives of others. Each person celebrating Christmas takes their own path, and finds their own meaning. I may not agree, but I don’t begrudge them or try to make their season less joyous.
Likewise, as I affix Hannukah stamps onto cards, I wonder why I’ve never heard any of my Jewish friends decry a cultural “war on Hannukah”. Despite the fact that Jewish kids grow up having their holiday pushed to the back of public consciousness, no one is yelling about it on Fox News. That’s because the real issue here isn’t that there is a “war on Christmas”. The real issue is that we are starting to understand that this is a country with many faiths and belief systems, and we are starting to respect other traditions as well.
So what does that change spiritually for those of us Christians who are counting the days of Advent, and waiting for Christ? Really, not much. Our journey continues, and our joy can be multiplied by those who surround us, regardless of whether they believe as we do or not. But what can change is the way in which we choose to respond to the diversity of God’s people.
In the Gospel when Christ is arrested, Peter draws his sword and strikes the ear of the slave of the high priest who was doing the arresting. Surely, if there ever was a war on Christ, this was the time. But instead, Christ tells Peter not to fight. In the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”, Jesus sings this line: “Why are you obsessed with fighting? Stick to fishing from now on.”
If Christians spend each Advent fighting against what they perceive to be an “attack” on Jesus, then we have missed the point, and we will never be able to do the sort of metaphorical “fishing” Christ was talking about. No one will ever be attracted to a religion that builds its faith on false calls of persecution and angry battles of words. But they just may be drawn to the sort of faith that calls us to something better, and that directs our attention to the hope that will change the world for everyone, and not just those who believe as we do. The Advent journey we are on leads only to hope, only to light, and only to a life of compassion. If what you’re finding is something different, you may not be on the road to Christmas after all.