HOW TO AVOID BEING A CHRISTMAS PHARISEE by Jill Ceragioli

Well my fellow Christians, it’s that time of year again. Time for us to bow up our chests and jut out our chins in defense of our holy holiday. You know what I’m talking about right? Everywhere we turn it seems the term “Christmas” is under attack. I mean, what was up last year with the solid red Starbucks cups? We celebrate Jesus this time of year, and that requires at least a picture of a snowflake on our cups, right? We pitched enough of a fit that this year’s cups are much more festive, thankfully. And “Happy Holidays?!” No matter which store you go to it’s the same utterances of “Happy Holidays!” How dare they! Say “Merry Christmas” or say nothing at all, Walmart lady!

We are angry. And can you blame us? Because I know that with every Black Friday deal we are tracking, we are thinking about the Virgin Mary, holy, blameless, vulnerable and scared. And with every person we are eyeballing in the aisle at Target to size up our competition for that new HDTV that is on sale with limited quantities, we are indeed considering the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (am I the only one that had to google what those actually were?) brought by the three wisemen. “Honey, you take tacky Christmas sweater that’s supposed to look like Santa’s coat guy on the left, I’m tracking jingle bell earrings, Santa Kitty Cat hat wearing lady on the right.” Tracking for Jesus. Good for you brothers and sisters. And with every credit card that we juggle to figure out how to fund the BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER!!!! for our little ones, I know that we are thinking of the beautiful, blameless baby Jesus, lying in his manger, destined to die for our sins. The light of the world. And I know that for every time we wonder throughout the madness of the season, how we will ever survive, and when will it ever just end, I know that YOU know and I know, we are only making such sacrifices because of the sacrifice Christ made for us. So devout.

Okay, are you tired of my dripping sarcasm? Understood. Let me just level with you then. All of us, ALL OF US, buy into the commercialism of this season. We like to think that we don’t but the fact is, we do. And you know what? To a degree, it’s okay. Gasp! Let me explain. It’s okay to have fun with our kids, put up the tree, watch Frosty and Rudolph on TV. Yes, we do need to honor Christ’s birth this time of year. No we do not need to get into theological debates with people about when Christ was ACTUALLY born. What matters is that he was, okay?! Stop with the “can’t see the forest for the trees” Christianity my friends. So how do we honor Christ during the season without becoming a Christmas Pharisee?

First of all, don’t sweat the small stuff. Like the color of the Starbucks cups. Maybe Starbucks was more on track with the meaning of the season, going back to simplicity than we are with our hustle and bustle? Sacrilege, I know. Sorry. But let’s look at the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is that you pay over $5 for a cup of coffee and complain about the color of the cups. I think it should be a commandment universal to all major world religions, that paying $5 for a cup of coffee is a sin. Just saying. We should all toss out our Starbucks cups, get on our knees and repent. Repent, ie. turn from your wicked ways and make your coffee at home. And if the thought of doing that makes you want to rip your clothes, cover your face in ashes, put on sackcloth, and pour hot coffee over my head, then I am pretty sure I have identified your idol. But seriously, there is nothing wrong with you buying Starbucks. It’s fine, really. But do you want to be an ambassador for Christ? Do you want to show people the light of the world this season? Then don’t complain about the Starbucks cups. Instead, take the $5 you would have spent on Starbucks, and buy lunch for someone homeless. Or just give them the $5. I know what you’re thinking…what if they buy booze with it? Well, what if they do. Once you give it, it’s a gift and it’s not for you to decide how it’s spent. You never know how God can use that. Or, buy someone else a Starbucks. Just because. It may be the nicest thing someone has done for that person all year. And you can take it a step further, and write on the cup a Bible verse such as Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. “ Or simply, “Jesus loves you, He thinks you’re amazing.” That feels like light, doesn’t it?

Secondly, don’t get so easily offended by the term, “Happy Holidays.” Because guess what? There are other holidays that people do celebrate this time of year, such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and of course the New Year. And, are you ready for this? The God who kept the oil burning for the Jews, is the same God who provides love, unity, and family for African Americans, is the same God in charge of the New Year, and well every year, day, minute, and second, is the same God who sent his beautiful only begotten Son to be born for us and to die for us. Mind. Officially. Blown. So, we can honor Him when we say Happy Holidays. We really can. And you know what brings the light of Christ to the forefront more than a grumpy, “Merry Christmas” reply to their “Happy Holidays?” Something like, “same to you. God has been so good to me this year, I love having the opportunity to honor him.” Or how about, “same to you. Everyone celebrates this time of year differently, and for me, I like to celebrate it by praying for others. You have been so kind today, I really needed that. And I am going to pray that God will really bless you today.” I know what you’re thinking. People will think you’re crazy, one of them Jesus freaks. Well, maybe. But when we pray we need to believe that God can and will do great things. So, do pray for that person and believe that God will bless them. That has so much more power than bitterness.

Third of all, put your money where your mouth is Christian. Talk is a dime a dozen, but we really show honor when we sacrifice. Want to do your part to honor Christ this Christmas? Give sacrificially. As Pastor Jeff has said in the past, set aside a portion of what you plan to spend this Christmas and do something good and God honoring with that money. Maybe you help provide gifts or food for a family in need. Maybe you give more to the church. But give. And teach your children to give. You probably can’t remember what you got for Christmas last year, or what you bought your children. But, your money can truly make a difference in the life of someone less fortunate. And maybe you are less fortunate and can’t give money. That’s completely ok. Give your time to someone. It is more precious than money.

Finally, remember this. The God of the Universe doesn’t need us to defend Him. Isn’t that freeing to know? I wish I could take credit for this bit of wisdom, but I can’t. Someone in our life group said it. Can’t remember who, but it stuck with me and it freed me. The God who created the heavens and the earths, who sent His Son to be born of a virgin, who caused the earth to split in two upon his death, who was resurrected on the third day and who still lives to this very day, does not know need us to defend Him. He loves us, and He gets that we are passionate about Him, and I think he probably takes a “Bless their hearts” approach to us because we want to defend Him. But remember He asked Peter to put away his sword. And we should do the same. Let’s honor God this season with our attitudes, our hearts, our time, and our money. And let’s be His hands and feet. Let’s be people who truly represent Christ. Let people see Him in us, and let them want what we have. That is how lives are truly changed, and that will truly make for a “Merry Christmas.”