This weekend I received a well-intentioned but misplaced charge against the world. In the form of a song, it went something like this: “If the store clerk doesn’t greet you with ‘Merry Christmas’ but rather a ‘Happy Holidays’ or some other secular form of greeting, leave the store and go find one that still believes in Christian Christmas traditions.” The implication is to vote with your money and let them know you won’t stand for this affront to your Christian faith.
It seemed even more pronounced than it would have ordinarily because I had been to an event on the previous Friday where the speaker, Dr. Steven Garber, paraphrased author John Stott, who writes in his book Christian Mission in the Modern World:
Why do we blame the world for being the world? What does it mean to see our central deepest vocation to be this: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world”? What do salt and light do? They are affective commodities. They affect their environments. Why would you blame a dark room for being dark? Why would you blame rotting meat for rotting? Why wouldn’t you ask, “Why wasn’t this meat salted along the way?” Why would we blame the world for being the world? The question is why weren’t we being who we were supposed to be?
The implication—what else should you expect? We expect someone who professes to be a follower of Jesus to act like a follower of Jesus, but too many followers of Jesus expect those who are not to also act like followers of Jesus. Jesus never did, why do we?
The fact is that Jesus was pleasantly surprised when he found expressions of faith outside the Jewish culture, not critical when he didn’t. Speaking of the Roman Centurion who expressed faith that Jesus could heal his servant if he chose to, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Mat 8:10, NIV). I don’t recall any place in the New Testament text where Jesus even expected faith from anyone other than his own people, and of them John said, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (Joh 1:11 ESV).
I think that perhaps the message, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” needs to be heard by Christ followers more than those who are not, especially in our attitude toward those who are not. We don’t expect an apple tree to produce oranges; we do expect a fig tree to produce figs.
Perhaps instead of boycotting stores that don’t use the greeting we prefer, we should thank managers of stores where we do hear “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” on the sound system. Maybe we too should be thankfully surprised when we do find faith outside of the family of faith rather than critical when we don’t, just like Jesus did. Maybe we need to stop “blaming the world for being the world” and think more about being salt and light. We don’t criticize a dark room for being dark; we turn on the light. We don’t blame meat for rotting if left to the elements; we salt it down to preserve it from the elements. Both salt and light impact the environment into which they come; so did Jesus. So should we.
About Jim Hislop
Jim Hislop is the Director of Western Seminary's Center for Leadership Development.