BY REV. THOMAS M. EARLY - ST. ALBAN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
There has been some anxiety in our culture about how to greet one's neighbor this time of year. Some are grieving the loss of a time when one could assume that every neighbor celebrated, at least nominally, the Christian holiday of Christmas. There was a time, the narrative goes, that one could say "Merry Christmas" without getting into trouble. Much has been made about the rise in popularity of saying "Happy Holidays." Some worry that this somehow dilutes the season. It strikes some that our culture has come to value political correctness more than yearly remembrance of Jesus Christ's birth.
Yet, if we take a step back, we might find that "Happy Holidays" is actually a much better salutation for this time of year even exclusively for the Christian community. As an Episcopalian, I abstain from saying "Merry Christmas" until Dec. 25 because the days until then make up the season of Advent. And when the Feast of the Nativity finally arrives, it has company. Many holidays come right after including: the Feast of Stephen, the Feast of John the Evangelist, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Feast of the Holy Name and ends with the Feast of the Epiphany. I could go on but I think you get the point.
There is a lot of holiday action going on just inside the Christian tradition but Christmas has embraced outside cultures since the beginning. Recall those three kings who followed a star. They certainly weren't Christian. They likely were not Jewish. And yet, the were included in the joy of the day and season. Their fate is ambiguous and any sense of conversion is hazy at best. All we are told is that they "returned home by another way." These men — exposed to the goodness and joy of God-made flesh, while not explicitly converting — were changed. They were not changed by words they heard but by what they witnessed in the crib.
Rather than worry about a "War of Christmas," would not a better use of Christian energy be to foster the goodness of that first Christmas in our own lives so that all whom we meet might be changed. Would we Christians not be better stewards of this annual feast if our lives more than our lips bore witness to the miracle in Bethlehem. In such I spirit I pray that you may know only kindness and inclusion this holiday season. May there be more reason to celebrate than days on the calendar. And may you have a the happiest of holidays in the weeks to come.