Our neighbor George recently commented that looking back several weeks ago on Christmas Day he watched a “PBS NewsHour” program where they did a segment on the so-called “The War on Christmas.”

Apparently the “war” has partly to deal with whether you say “Merry Christmas” which seems religious or “Happy Holiday” which seems more secular or worldly.


Recently our president took credit for saving the term “Merry Christmas” (although other Presidents have used the term) by giving Americans the freedom to use the term and in turn protecting their religious rights. Indeed, days before the holiday, a pro-Trump video featuring a little blonde girl lisping, “Thank you, President Trump, for letting us say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” as if the words had somehow been previously banned or outlawed.

A Pew Research study found that the majority of most Americans really don’t care which greeting is used. There is a minority of some who were identified as evangelical Christians who want to have the freedom to say “Merry Christmas” which is a way of promoting their faith. They feel that this “right” (along with other religious rights) was or had been taken away. On the other hand there are others who would rather say “Happy Holiday” because for them it is really a holiday season.

What’s the point of this whole conversation, I asked? The 12 days of Christmas are over and we are now in the season of Epiphany

Good point, George replied. My concern, he said, goes back to something we wrote about last month. Do you see Christmas or even Jesus as an object or a subject? There is a major difference. If you see Christmas or Jesus as an object then there is a space or gap between yourself and the object. Therefore you can accept or reject the object depending on your reason or your whim.

For example, take the statement “are you going to church today?” The Biblical truth is you can’t go to church because you are the church. In classical Greek “ekklesia” meant “an assembly of citizens.” The religious connotation of the word “church” also stems from the word “ekklesia” which means the “people of God.” Songwriters Avery & Marsh said it well, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together … the church is not a building … .” But when we use the word church as an “object” then we are in control of the object. Church becomes something we control. We can go or not go to worship depending on how we feel. It is all about us! When Jesus becomes an “object” then we can control Jesus or at least pick and chose what we want from him or his teachings.

Is there a difference between being a “follower” of Jesus rather than a “disciple?” A disciple accepts the invitation to “follow me” but goes a lot further. A disciple becomes part of the action! Writer Thomas Moore wrote, “You have to tell the story of Jesus’ birth again and again until you finally see that it is as much about you as it is about any community of followers.” And Henri J.M. Nouwen adds “God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road … .”

“Followers” can simply receive the message when it pleases them and dumps it when it is against what they want to hear. We are with Jesus when he picked up the cute little children or when he healed the sick or told good stories or multiplied the loaves and fish. When things were easy we told him “we are with you.” But when he told us to tear down the wall and instead build a bridge or provide health care for the sick and a home for the migrant or the homeless and the poor or love your enemy then we said “we aren’t so sure.” When Jesus told them and us that he was going to Jerusalem and face hate and evil and possible death they/we told him “we’re not in it for the long haul, sorry, see you later!”

The issue each one of us faces is whether we want to “play church” or “be the church!” Playing church is a lot easier and maybe even more fun. We can show up when we want, believe what we want, give what we want, love or hate whoever we want.

Being the church is radically different. It’s not all about us. Pastor Mike Slaughter said it well: “Life is not about staying safe and living comfortably. The call to follow Jesus is a call to give your life to him, to join God’s mission in healing the souls of the world.”

We accept the fact that our way is often not God’s way. We are called to be part of God’s miracle team. We are called to make God’s love visible in the world. We take seriously the call of the eighth century BCE Hebrew prophet Micah “to do justice (fairness), to love kindness (love to others) and to walk humbly (obedience) with our God.” We accept, in words of Dietrich Bonheoffer, the fact that there is a cost for being a disciple. But if we chose “the way of the cross” we have a spiritual joy that the world can never take away.

Let us conclude by asking, is it possible that political decisions are often made between “object” or “subject?” If health care is simply an “object” I can vote the party line without caring. But if health care is a “subject” then I share the pain of sickness with others and I will work to create a meaningful good health system. If immigration is an “object” then I don’t have to be concerned about where someone is going to sleep tonight or where they will find their next meal. But if immigration is a “subject” then I share the journey of homelessness with those who don’t know where they will sleep tonight or where their next meal will come from and therefore I will work to find a solution.

Let dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.