Happy Holidays?

Happy Holidays?

child is bornHappy Holidays or Merry Christmas? You decide.

Jesus came to our world!

Christians are celebrating that Jesus became one of us, a human walking this earth. He wanted to join our world for a season because He wanted to be able to say, “I understand.” Others may be celebrating a fun family holiday, or Santa Clause, or maybe Kwanza or Hanukkah. But clearly, in our diverse world, not everyone is celebrating the birth of Jesus.

I am mindful this time of year that Jesus’ birth changed my life and changed everything about the way I think and live.  I am comforted that God made a plan that would include me in a very intimate way.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Heb.” 4:15-16

What does this say to me about how I should relate to others?

Recently I was asked to share a blessing before a volunteer holiday meal at the local theater I work with. I thought about who these folks are. There is a lady who is Jewish, a man who is an atheist, someone who is from India and is Buddhist. There are others who are Christians. How would I give a meal blessing that would in fact be a blessing for them all?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

I thought it was interesting that when the host asked me to stand and give the blessing, many of them bowed their heads even though I didn’t say “let us bow our heads.” I didn’t bow my head and rather, I just began to talk. Very quickly I saw that others looked up and I saw their eyes. I’m sure they were curious as to what I was actually going to do.

“Today, I realize that sharing a meal together is an awesome opportunity to be thankful. I am thankful for our “Community Theater” because of the word “community.”

I appreciate the awesome relationships we have here. I am thankful for the things I have learned through you all, through the year I’ve been here. I am thankful for the management and the donors who all make this possible. I realize that we build and present plays here, but I think the real benefit of this opportunity is all about the relationships. I am thankful for the meal that we have all brought together to share with each other. Amen.”

As I led us through this thankful process, I saw heads bobbing in agreement. The theater director nodded easily when I spoke of the real intent of the theater being to build relationships. I could see that they were all with me in heart as I was speaking, I also realized that I was basically quoting Scripture.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Cor. 10:31-33

For the good of everyone I decided that it would be arrogant and presumptuous to bring a Christian prayer, “In Jesus name,” to a group that is not a Christian ministry, and is not comprised of all Christians! I see what Jesus did in leaving His heavenly realm, He came to earth, deferred to human form and experience so that He could build an intimate relationship with us. So, I decided that it would emulate Jesus’ heart to include everyone in my thoughts, and my prayer.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” Matthew 6:5

Within minutes, the fruit of my decision bore out. Betty, the little Jewish lady came up to me and said, “John, thank you so much for your wonderful prayer. (note, I didn’t do it in prayer form, I didn’t ask everyone to bow their heads, and I didn’t say in Jesus name). I said it wasn’t really a prayer. She continued to comment, “Oh, but it was and John, you included us all. Thank you so much.”

What was the outcome of my sensitivity to those there? First of all, everyone there knows me well enough to know I am a Christian. So, It created an avenue to continue building a relationship with Betty and others. Just like Jesus being sensitive to us, it opened more doors to building an authentic relationship which often includes talking about my own faith.

God could have decided to descend to earth in His Godly form, scaring the begeebies out of us while He threw his heavenly robes around, or whatever God looks like in His God form. But, He didn’t do that. I could have prayed a Christian prayer, and loudly proclaimed, “In Jesus Name.” But I didn’t.

The next day, we were all together again for a project and afterwards shared some Pizza and drinks. The whole discussion surrounded our faith, we talked about the differences, we discussed the Bible, we asked each other about what we do to celebrate this time of the year. I asked Betty about Hanukkah and how she has celebrated that in her life.

Betty once again said, “I want to thank you again for being sensitive. I’ve been really hurt when Christians push their religion on groups through the assumption that we all see Jesus like they do.” Again, my decision to include others into my life proved to increase vulnerability, discussion, and further dialogue about our faith, and God!

At this time of the year there is a lot of discussion amongst Christians about how to greet others. Many are really pushing the “Merry Christmas” message in public venues. Personally, this is fine amongst those who believe as I do. But with those I don’t know, I would rather be a blessing by being more inclusive?

Last year oak-king-winter-solsticeI reunited with my cousin after many, many years. In speaking with her she said she doesn’t celebrate Christmas. She talked about her interest in the “Winter Solstice”. I wanted to send her our annual Christmas letter about our life during the year. I thought about how delicate it was that we had reconnected and really didn’t know each others lives very well. When I was getting the mailing ready I found a stamp that was a “Winter Solstice” stamp. How perfect! This would allow me let her know that I listened in our conversation and didn’t want to push the Christmas issue with her. I wanted to value her, the person and was really glad to have found that stamp. Her response to our reunion was, “John, I’ve never known a Christian like you.”

“Happy Holidays, Have a Wonderful Holiday Season!”

These more inclusive greetings may draw some people closer to you! It is through us that they may see Jesus emulated . I don’t think He would push an agenda of offense, rather He did everything He could to draw people closer to Him. However, He did have a lot to say about those who are religiously pushy. While He challenged the Pharisees with great passion  I think He  may have gone into the sinners homes to wish them “Happy Holidays!”

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1

happyholidays11So, you decide how you will greet people this year but before you do, consider who they are first and meet them where they are just like Jesus did. And If you don’t know them, bless them with a “Happy Holidays.”

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2 Responses to “Happy Holidays?”

  1. Richard Holloman says:

    Hey John:

    My response is not to debate with your post but is an honest on-going struggle I have between the premise of your article and what I believe to be Jesus’ teaching as the only way for any person to “come unto the Father” (John 14:6) which is also the basic message of the Christmas season that we celebrate . . . the incarnation . . . GOD became a man and dwelt among us (John 1).

    Also, from scripture it is obvious that Jesus repelled more people than He drew unto Himself (Matthew 10; and many other scriptures that speak of the multitudes of people who rejected Him.

    So I battle with my desire not to offend but at the same time remain faithful to the truth of the authentic Gospel message. In this world it seems the true authentic Gospel message is becoming more and more offensive.

    This is why it is important for us as followers of Jesus Christ that we are authentic in our faith and that we do not embrace what I call the “typical Christian life” (what I think you might have been implying with your quote of Matthew 6:1; the life of religion rather than authentic intimacy with GOD). It’s also why it is equally important how we speak the gospel message as the gospel message itself.

    I recognize there are other holidays during this season and so I have no problem wishing everyone “Happy Holidays!” But I also acknowledge we celebrate Messiah’s birth on December 25 and so I say, “Merry Christmas!”

    Merry Christmas to my fellow believers and Happy Holidays to everyone!

  2. Joe says:

    I too wrestle with what Richard mentions. I must say, though, that as I have recently been immersed in the secular world I find myself wanting to build relationships with my non-christian friends in order to be able to eventually share Christ with them. As you mentioned, John, they know I’m a Christian and I really do not hide what I believe, but I want my priority to be to love them and hopefully share Christ with them first and foremost.

    I suppose I am beginning to see how confronting them constantly with Christian messages, their sins (which are many and a lot like my own) only separates me further from them. I am just praying for the Holy Spirit to direct me when I need to speak up and bring Jesus into our conversation. I have to trust that guidance first and foremost!

    Good post!

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