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Careful What You Wish For

'Tis the season when people start wishing for stuff they hope to find under the tree or in the stocking. And it is also the season when plastic Jesus dolls are put on government land by Christians who do not seem to realize that such displays do not match the Christmas story. After all, we are celebrating the birth of the King of kings and Lord of lords. This is a story that scared the political leaders of the day and should not be reduced to serving as a prop for worldly powers today. As Larry Eubanks wrote in a great Ethics Daily column today, the Christmas story is subversive:
In many ways, Christians are called to be subversives in our culture. As much as many decry secular culture "taking the Christ out of Christmas," perhaps the far greater harm is done by Christians themselves when they ignore - either by ignorance or by choice – the subversive nature of the Nativity, domesticating it into a sweet, heartwarming story of a baby in a manger surrounded by shepherds, donkeys and sheep. This frees us from having to be subversive ourselves. We can enjoy a nice Christmas, thankful that our personal sins have been taken care of without concerning ourselves with the societal sins that continue to burden the "least of these" in our own culture. ... But by domesticating the baby Jesus, we have removed this threat. Christ is no longer a word for the one challenging the guy on the throne; it's simply a word for someone who takes away our personal sin. And when we do that, we are the ones taking the Christ out of Christmas.

For years Christians have fought for the legal right to put nativity scenes on public land as if that would somehow make our society better, an idea that treats Jesus like a lucky charm. That effort, however, has backfired as other groups are also taking advantage of the freedom to put up religious symbols. For instance, a Florida man won the right to put up a Festivus pole (a Seinfeld-inspired pole made of empty beer cans) in the rotunda of the Florida state capitol building not far from the nativity scene. Similarly, a group is hoping to erect a monument honoring Satan on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol not far from a controversial monument of the Ten Commandments (for background on the Ten Commandments memorial, see previous post here). Some of the same state legislators who supported the Ten Commandments monument are attacking the idea of the Satanic one. Yet, the religious liberty rights must be extended to all. Perhaps this is yet another good reason to avoid such religious displays on public grounds. After all, if the goal is that their presence will make us more holy, then that seems to be overridden by the other religious symbols. God is unlikely to be pleased to be just one of several "holy" objects put in our state capitols. So, let us go back to the subversive message of Christmas where governmental leaders worry about the King and those who pledge allegiance to him.

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