One of the contentious issues that seems to come up each Christmas, particularly for those of us in the business world, is the rights and wrongs of being overly Christian in the way we celebrate Christmas.
I mean, for Jews its not Christmas, its Hanukkah, and for the Pagans its not Christmas, its the solstice, so what right do we have to impose our ways of celebrating this season on others? Shouldn’t we just limit ourselves to “seasons greetings” cards for instance, lest we offend someone?
But to my way of thinking this is political correctness gone mad. It reminds me of the Mr Hankie Christmas special in Southpark, you know, the one where everything goes to “poo” quite literally.
To my way of thinking what we should be aiming for, as a democratic and pluralistic society, is not a blanding out of religious distinctiveness, but rather for the mutual respect of religious distinctiveness. I may not agree with everything Jewish or Pagan tradition stands for, or Hindu or Buddhist or Atheist for that matter, but I can surely give non-Christians space to express what they find meaningful in life in their own way. I see nothing in the New Testament that would justify compulsion.
But by the same token I feel no compulsion to water down my own tradition either, and I expect the same courtesy and respect I show to others to be returned to me.
This may sound rather impractical, but you know what? I find it works. We invite our Sikh and Hindu and Buddhist and Pagan neighbours to our Christmas gatherings and carols and they come, they feel welcomed, and they thank us. We express interest in their traditions when they open up about them, and you know what? Conversations open up. Sharing starts. Giving starts.
Isn’t giving what Christmas is really about? Giving? Do we think for one second that the magi that rocked up to the original Christmas gathering had their theology all straight? Particularly given their means of divining what was going on? Can you imagine Joseph at the stable door blocking their way with the words, hey, you guys aren’t exactly kosher? Or Mary having a go at her Jewish neighbours for not celebrating the birth of her son in a suitably Christian way? By the same token, can you imagine the angels toning things down their heavenly praises to make them more PC?
In celebrating Christmas as Christians in a pluralistic society I do not think we should be watering down the challenge of Christmas one iota, but we do face greater challenges in communicating what Christmas does mean within our cultural context, and I think at least part of that communication process will involve hospitality and generosity towards our neighbours even as we stay true to ourselves and our way.