In the new Forward Today, Scott finds himself outside the Disney Store—and is surprised to find he’s grateful for Christmas at the mall.
Dear friends in Christ,
I had a surprising (to me) realization when I found myself at the mall a few days ago. If you know me at all, this may be shocking, so be warned. This is what I realized: I am grateful for early Christmas decorations and music at the mall.
Sure, it’s not even Advent yet. But it is not secular culture’s job to keep Christian feasts; that is what the church is for. And we might complain that “our” holiday has been hijacked by commerce. That is true, but there is also another way to look at it.
As I was walking past the Disney Store, I heard “Good King Wenceslas” coming from inside. It could have been a recording out of our hymnal, straight up. But there it was, in the mall. I wonder if anyone ever says, “Who was this Wenceslas, and what is this Stephen fellow doing in the snow?” Maybe someone wonders about the stars and the angels and the lambs that show up in the sort of carols you hear in the public square. Or what about Santa himself, as the modern projection of a bishop who once was famous for defending against heresy and being generous to the poor? How many conversations can we enter into, just based on the music alone?
Every year around this time, we Christians get a free boost from commerce. Our gift is that we have many opportunities to invite people to celebrate Christmas at church, where it’s meant to be celebrated. We can tell the amazing story of Christmas over and over. We can bask in the “Christmas spirit,” which isn’t all that different from the “Christian spirit.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I hope that we who are committed disciples of Jesus Christ will savor every minute of Advent in our homes and our churches. I hope that we will not neglect an invitation to repent and to prepare our hearts to adore Jesus. But that is our work, not the work of others. There is no need to scold a shopkeeper for failing to honor Advent. Instead, let us rejoice that the joy of Christ’s birth finds its way into the public square.
P.S. I do freely acknowledge that Christmas celebrations in public are the result of the privileged place of Christianity, and we should be generous to a fault with those who celebrate other religious holidays. And if we see the symbol of another religion or meet a person who struggles with public Christianity this time of year, we are given an opportunity to listen, to learn, and to practice generosity.