Christmas 2013 has passed. For Nancy and me it was, for the most part, a season of quiet reflection. We did get a few gifts for my kids and for Nancy’s family, but decided against exchanging gifts with one another. It proved to be a very good decision. Our conversations were filled with meaning. Our home glowed with an aura of peace and good will, the kind the angels of Bethlehem described to the shepherds.
It was also nice to see that our media must have gotten the memo. Most of us have grown tired of the debate about what constitutes the appropriate seasonal greeting – “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I’ve never been able to figure out why so many in the Christian community got so upset to begin with. I guess it goes to show that our media has far too much power to shape our ideas and opinions.
I’m not naïve enough to think that we don’t have detractors and antagonists. We’ve got plenty. But, there are some things they can’t change, no matter how hard they try. Jesus’ birth was very real. So were his life, his deeds, and his words. They’ll never be able to give us a world where a masterpiece like Giotto’s “Madonna with Child” becomes “Madonna without Child.” Nor can they take away the very real encounter I had with this very real Jesus in the Republic of Vietnam back in the 60’s. Nor can they expunge the experience of millions of other Christians.
Looking back at it, it was especially nice this year to be able to escape the ever-grinding gears of America’s conspicuous consumerism machine. It’s sad when you think about it. Primitive and early Christianity had nothing whatsoever to do with the consumer mindset that has overtaken us moderns. In fact, the Christianity of those times had a decidedly counter-culture flair when it came to economics. Jesus said things that run counter to modern thought, things like “Man does not live by bread alone,” “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God,” or “No one can serve two masters….you cannot serve God and money.” The early church took these words seriously, which caused them to run afoul of the commercial interests of their time. The Apostle Paul enraged the merchants of Ephesus when he preached that the silver shrines dedicated to the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis were worthless. With the prospect of shrinking sales and profits in mind, an influential silversmith named Demetrius gathered his fellow craftsmen and merchants together and appealed first to their greed, then to their moral instincts. “Our trade will lose its good name,” he said. Artemis would be “robbed of her divine majesty.” When the merchants heard this they were furious and Demetrius got what he wanted – a near riot. For two hours, the crowd roared in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” It took the city clerk to eventually calm the crowd down by suggesting they take Paul and his companions to court.
How the times have changed. I can’t imagine today’s Christian community becoming so out of step with the nation’s commercial interests that their anti-social behavior would cause near riots in the streets.
The New Year is a few days off. The uproar about what constitutes the appropriate seasonal greeting will be forgotten. But, 2014 will bring more important, and meaningful, points of tension between Christians and their antagonists. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not David Green, owner and founder of Hobby Lobby, has the legal right to integrate his faith with his business practices. In a world that is increasingly post-Christian, new norms will continue to be established to replace those deemed “antiquated.” The new norms will give increased power to social service agencies or government bureaucrats. There will be more and more cases like the one in which a British social service agency forcibly took an Italian woman’s child from her by caesarean section and put the child up for adoption, using their notion of what was best for the child as the justification (the Telegraph – November 30, 2013).
These, and other cases (infanticide, euthanasia) to come, will force important decisions on Christians. Will we give in to the new norms? Will we try to re-establish our norms? Or, will be seek avenues of conscientious objection?
If we accept the new norms, society will consider us to be “reasonable.” If we choose the path of conscientious objection, we can be sure of powerful societal backlash against us.
The path of conscientious objection doesn’t mean that we’ll make the rules. It does mean that our loyalty to society and its new norms and our responses to them must be guided by our faith and conscience. New and newer norms will come, but we must remain constant in faith, conscience, and our duty to say, “No!”