Questions and answers, but mainly questions.

Jesus and the Elves

Scott Wilder read the following on the radio today. I heard it on my way home from work. A discussuion ensued thereafter about the secularization of Christmas – namely, the replacement of the word “christmas” with the word “holiday.” Turns out a lot of right wing Texans are pretty pissed about it. I ended up calling in and offering another take. Anyway – I have no idea who wrote this. If anyone knows, fill me in so I can properly site the source John Leo wrote this for U.S. News and World Report.  I (originally) found it on Wilder’s site.

Jesus and the Elves

And Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary, his espoused wife, who was great with child. And she brought forth a son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds and said, “I bring you tidings of great joy. Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

“There’s a problem with the angel,” said a Pharisee who happened to be strolling by. As he explained to Joseph, angels are widely regarded as religious symbols, and the stable was on public property where such symbols were not allowed to land or even hover.

“And I have to tell you, this whole thing looks to me very much like a Nativity scene,” he said sadly. “That’s a no-no, too.”

Joseph had a bright idea. “What if I put a couple of reindeer over there near the ox and ass?” he said, eager to avoid sectarian strife.

“That would definitely help,” said the Pharisee, who knew as well as anyone that whenever a savior appeared, judges usually liked to be on the safe side and surround it with deer or woodland creatures of some sort. “Just to clinch it, throw in a candy cane and a couple of elves and snowmen, too,” he said. “No court can resist that.”

Mary asked, “What does my son’s birth have to do with snowmen?”

“Snowpersons,” cried a young woman, changing the subject before it veered dangerously toward religion.

Off to the side of the crowd, a Philistine was painting the Nativity scene. Mary complained that she and Joseph looked too tattered and worn in the picture. “Artistic license,” he said. “I’ve got to show the plight of the haggard homeless in a greedy, uncaring society in winter,” he quipped.

“We’re not haggard or homeless. The inn was just full,” said Mary.

“Whatever,” said the painter.

Two women began to argue fiercely. One said she objected to Jesus’ birth “because it privileged motherhood.” The other scoffed at virgin births, but said that if they encouraged more attention to diversity in family forms and the rights of single mothers, well, then, she was all for them.

“I’m not a single mother,” Mary started to say, but she was cut off by a third woman who insisted that swaddling clothes are a form of child abuse, since they restrict the natural movement of babies. With the arrival of 10 child advocates, all trained to spot infant abuse and manger rash, Mary and Joseph were pushed to the edge of the crowd, where arguments were breaking out over how many reindeer (or what mix of reindeer and seasonal sprites) had to be installed to compensate for the infant’s unfortunate religious character. An older man bustled up, bowling over two merchants, who had been busy debating whether an elf is the same as a fairy and whether the elf/fairy should be shaking hands with Jesus in the crib or merely standing to the side, jumping around like a sports mascot.

“I’d hold off on the reindeer,” the man said, explaining that the use of asses and oxen as picturesque backdrops for Nativity scenes carries the subliminal message of human dominance. He passed out two leaflets, one denouncing manger births as invasions of animal space, the other arguing that stables are “penned environments” where animals are incarcerated against their will. He had no opinion about elves or candy canes.

Signs declaring “Free the Bethlehem 2” began to appear, referring to the obviously exploited ass and ox. Someone said the halo on Jesus’ head was elitist.

Mary was exasperated. “And what about you, old mother?” she said sharply to an elderly woman. “Are you here to attack the shepherds as prison guards for excluded species, maybe to complain that singing in Latin identifies us with our Roman oppressors, or just to say that I should have skipped patriarchal religiosity and joined some dumb new-age goddess religion?”

“None of the above,” said the woman, “I just wanted to tell you that the Magi are here.” Sure enough, the three wise men rode up.

The crowd gasped, “They’re all male!” And “Not very multicultural!” “Balthasar here is black,” said one of the Magi. “Yes, but how many of you are gay or disabled?” someone shouted. A committee was quickly formed to find an impoverished lesbian wise-person among the halt and lame of Bethlehem.

A calm voice said, “Be of good cheer, Mary, you have done well and your son will change the world.” At last, a sane person, Mary thought. She turned to see a radiant and confident female face. The woman spoke again: “There is one thing, though. Religious holidays are important, but can’t we learn to celebrate them in ways that unite, not divide? For instance, instead of all this business about ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,’ why not just ‘Season’s Greetings’?”

Mary said, “You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, ‘Hello, it’s winter’?”

“That’s harsh, Mary,” said the woman. “Remember, your son could make it big in midwinter festivals, if he doesn’t push the religion thing too far. Centuries from now, in nations yet unborn, people will give each other pricey gifts and have big office parties on his birthday. That’s not chopped liver.”

“Let me get back to you,” Mary said.

Normally, I hate conservative talk radio. But Wilder’s a pretty fair host. His reading of this was hilarious. On further reflection however, I had to ask mysef, “Should I expect anything else from a pagan population?” As a national holiday, christmas has become many things to many people that it shouldn’t be. What’s the Christ-like response to all of this?

Well – what do you guys think? I’ll offer my opinion after I have the opportunity to read everyone else’s and discern what the most unique thing would be to say. That’s the priveledge of the facilitator.

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10 responses

  1. I like it brother! I am tempted to move to wordpress myself. Thank you for your thoughts. Let’s talk via voice soon. Grace.

    November 30, 2005 at 5:35 pm

  2. Um, two weird things.

    1) The above comment sounds like it should be from me, and it has my name. I had to think really long and hard about whether I had already left that comment at some time and since forgotten.

    2) The subject of this post of yours is very strange, considering I just posted something very similar on a different blog. I don’t give it out because I like to be able to speak freely there without worry, but at least check out this one post that I put up BEFORE reading yours.

    Figure Meets Form: Holiday Trees

    December 1, 2005 at 4:59 am

  3. Okay now I read the post…sad but true take on what Christmas has become today for so many. Everything and anything but Christ. I think your question, ‘What is the Christlike response’ is great. I need to think about that. My first thought is to not waste too much attention on the pagan views of Christmas and seek to focus on Christ, the Gospel, and loving people in such a way that they see Christ, hear Christ, and find themselves not knowing what to do with Him in the midst of the craziness of what Christmas has become.

    I’d like to think more on this.

    December 1, 2005 at 3:44 pm

  4. Daniel Donaldson

    I think that the article is thought provoking, but I think your question combined with it is more so. I don’t really feel strongly about saying “Happy Holiday” vs. “Merry Christmas”. The argument as I understand it is that Christians should fight to keep Secularism from stealing what is Christian. Since Christmas was a holiday invented by the church to compete with pagan winter celebrations, I think it could be argued that Secularism is just taking back what it had prior claim to.

    My concern is that there really isn’t a biblical mandate to celebrate Christmas rightly, but there is to understand the gospel rightly and to live each day (holiday or no) in response to this great truth that sets captives free and brings about God’s redemption. The gospel can get so easily lost when we make arguments central that perhaps shouldn’t be central.

    As for our family, we are struggling to create our own Christ centered traditions that point us back to Christ’s work and we try to make those traditions open to friends that we have in our lives. Christmas is a time in our year where our hearts are brought to reflect on the work of the cross more often because of the meaning behind the traditions we choose to participate in. We treat it devotionally for our hearts and celebrate it in a way to provoke discussion with others all with the hopes of furthuring the gospel.

    What was your take on the discussion that you said you called in with?

    December 1, 2005 at 4:06 pm

  5. First – does anyone with a wordpress blog know how I can change my time-stamp. It’s posting the time as a few hours later than it really is.

    December 1, 2005 at 5:03 pm

  6. I have two reactions to the conversation on the radio – a gut reaction and a more rant-like response.

    Gut Reaction: The present situation makes me sad. I’m sad that my mother-in-law isn’t allowed to put a nativity scene in her second-grade classroom. I’m sad that wishing someone a Merry Christmas (a casual form of blessing) will likely offend them. I’m sad that lots of Christians wish people Merry Christmas in order to offend them – as if they were standing up for Jesus by intentionally angering their neighbor. I’m sad that our country has become so self-absorbed and so consumer-oriented that our tradition of gift giving in celebration of the Gift we have recieved has turned into a commerical frenzy. I’m sad many look at this situation and would rather separate the name of Christ from the celebration than begin celebrating the name of Christ in place of current popular tradition. It’s tragic and (I anticipate) it’s going to get worse. So I’m sad about all of this.

    Rant-like Response: Quit bitching. Rejoice! For many years I have struggled to separate Christmas from commercialism in my own mind. Now the world is saying, “Listen – ‘Jesus’ is pretty offensive to a lot of us. And quite frankly, presents, vacation time, Santa, and peppermint mochas really have nothing to do with him. So, if you want to celebrate Christmas – please, by all means. But we’re gonna put up a holiday tree and have us some egg nog, kay?” It’s like I’ve been in this awful relationship, but could never really bring myself to end it. Now, finally, the ho’s like “Look, babe – we’ve just got different values. I think we need to go our separate ways.” I was too weak to leave her, but she started to see what I was about deep down and was offended. She’s breaking up with me, but i should’ve left her a long time ago because I’m promised to someone else. (Rhodes, I apologize for the cheap analogy). My point is that our culture’s desire to extract the name of Christ from a celebration focused, not on him, but on presents and nostalgia, may be much to our benefit.

    December 1, 2005 at 5:04 pm

  7. Scott

    What’s all the fuss about? I’m not sure what all this discussion is about “Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holiday’s.” The word on the street is that the birth of Jesus Christ as a man is celebrated on December 25th. Did that change? By the way, what does a nativity look like? Of course I’m being sarcastic, but imagine for a minute something. If you did not lend an ear to what the world has to say, then this debate would end. Turn the t.v. off, shut of the radio, throw out the newpaper, and stay clear of other media. What you’ll find is that Christmas is what you make of it, not the world.

    December 8, 2005 at 12:56 am

  8. rich

    the shift from “merry xmas” to “happy holidays” has nothing to do with secularization — it has everything to do with updating to a more inclusive greeting, one that encompasses not only xmas, but also hanukkah and kwanza — the fact that some on the right jump on this issue, often disingenuously in my opinion, as some sort of example of encroaching godless liberalism seems designed more to rally fundamentalist conservatives by reinforcing their paranoia than to combat any real threat to xmas — it is an easy moral stand to take and quite effective from a strategic standpoint — what i’d rather see is moral outrage regarding the increasing consumerization of the holiday season, something the pope recently spoke about, interestingly enough

    December 12, 2005 at 11:21 pm

  9. rich: I agree with you that this is very much a social issue and the conservative political piggy-backing, although effective, is manipulative (not to mention inappropriate).
    On a personal level though, the issue is quite spiritual in nature because it effects the way I celebrate Christmas. My point earlier, however, was that the salutational shift is actually more of a help than a hindrance in my celebration of Jesus’ birth because I’m less distracted by the commercialism since, in the broader cultural sense, the commercialism/consumerism now circles less around “Christmas” and more around the “Holiday Season.”

    I’m curious as to why you’d “rather see [a broader] moral outrage regarding the increasing consumerization of the holiday season?” Are you morally outraged?

    December 13, 2005 at 6:40 pm

  10. JOhn Leo

    Please list me as author of “Jesus and the Elves.” I wrote it as a column for U.S. News & World Report.
    John Leo

    March 1, 2006 at 11:56 am

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