I want to share this obvious observation: Even if there were some remote chance I could become pope… they would never let me. The reason is simple — and it is not because of my progressive views of Christian theology, or the fact that I am unapologetically gay, or even the fact that I do not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
Nope, it’s because I believe December 25th is one of the biggest frauds every pulled on humanity.
Those who are pastors know that what I am suggesting is very true. Y’all went to seminary and know that saying Jesus was born on December 25th is like saying there is a real living, breathing Santa Claus. This fraudulent claim has made our jobs and lives during this time of the year a living nightmare of endless days of no sleep and one crisis on top of another.
For the Christmas season, which begins long before the first Sunday in Advent — actually right after Halloween — we are subjected to 12 weeks of Christmas messages that have little to do with or about our Christian faith. In fact most of the preparations and so-called traditions have been borrowed — or should I say stolen — from pagan practices. Although many marketing people cleverly package their presentations pointed in the direction of a cute little baby in a cute well manicured and warm manger scene.
People begin making plans for family gatherings and the perfect gift to make the perfect statement of love or impression. This is all destroyed when Johnny announces he is bringing Tom home for Christmas or Susie tells the family she will be spending this holiday with Tammy and her family.
Money, jobs, friends, illness, those dying, families, the homeless, starving children, criminals of all kinds and political games all become the all-consuming thing that will happen in that particular year or in a lifetime coming up to December 25th.
Starting with Thanksgiving and through Christmas Day, every story has a Christmas slant meant to make one feel guilty — or to believe it is possible for one day, if enough money is spent, to be a day of perfect perfection.
Almost every retail business, in America anyway, is geared to this time as making or breaking them for the entire year.
Legislation, which is vital to so many people’s lives, is either held hostage or used as extortion leading to December 25th.
Also, starting with Thanksgiving our food consumption just simply goes off the charts, eating far too much of everything and especially the wrong things. Alcohol consumption also goes off the charts — but hey you gotta drink something with all that food.
The normal every day challenges of life become a crisis of faith because “tis the season.”
People’s social and pageant schedules become so jammed that there is no time to take a breath or enjoy a quiet moment of peace and wonderment at God’s creativity in this world in which we live.
We are pushed to acts of kindness because it is the Christmas season, rather than because it is the right and just thing to do.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Oh wait, I forgot the ultimate fundraiser of those on the Christian and political Right: “The War on Christmas” is fought for the entire 12 weeks leading to December 25th. Do you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”? Legal fights jam our courts over these phrases, or worse, where a nativity scene gets set up. Conservative Christian websites fire up the war by warning their readers and members that “Christmas is about to be stolen from them, so send us money to protect you!”
Now for those readers who have at this point decided I am some sort of Scrooge or Grinch that stole Christmas, be patient and keep reading.
When I was young my grandfather told me the reason one should not lie is because once you tell a lie, you have to tell another lie to cover the first and another to cover the second and pretty soon you are just having to lie all the time because you have lost track of the truth and you can’t remember what you said and to whom.
We have been told, and we believe, so many lies around Christmas that we have almost completely lost the meaning of why this particular birthday is important, and why we celebrate a life which in 33 years (give or take a couple of years) had such an impact as to change the very course of human events.
In all the perfection we strive for in the holiday season we forget this birth was anything but neat, clean or glamorous. We forget, or by cheesy tradition explain away, that this child was conceived out of wedlock, born in abject poverty and grew up in a world that was most certainly as dangerous to human life as it is today. We forget, or don’t talk about, how the gossips of the day must have had a field day both inside the temple and out.
We jump past the truth of this story which tells us that no matter how bad things are or how bad they get, God can raise us up out of the ashes of despair to a place with our Creator.
We forget that this is a birth that gave us a moral compass for living a life that would being pleasing to the God who created us because it leads to a life of doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God.
When we first bought the lie of December 25th, it became easier to buy the other lies. In fact the Christian and political Right’s fear of Christmas being stolen while a lie itself was a self-fulfilling prophecy. For, you see, I don’t think we have to worry about Christmas being stolen… it already has been stolen and replaced with the craziness that we call “the holiday season.”
It is the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born that we celebrate. The truth of the date is somewhere between April and August depending on whose math you believed. About the only thing certain about the date is it was not the 25th of December.
The story of the circumstances of his conception and birth give us real hope that it gets better. Jesus’ life and work give us a working model and road map for our life. His life is indeed one we can look up to and not be disappointed in what we see. His arrest, faulty conviction, and the administration of capital punishment followed by a resurrection give those us who call ourselves followers of the Christ, the assurance that nothing in this world including death of the physical body can keep us from God.
Maybe the date we celebrate the birth in the wider view is not as important as getting back to why we remember this birth like no other birth in history.
So it is with the spirit of being authentic in our celebration I ask us to consider how our “Christmas” celebration this year will measure up to the words attributed to the one we celebrate, we remember, we strive to be like:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Creator in heaven.
(Matthew 5:3-16 NIV)
It seems to me that December 25th is as good as any day to get back to the authentic reason for giving honor to the birth of the one called Christ.
Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever and Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994, have been in a committed partnership since the early 1980s and have been legally married since 2015.