Walking into a supermarket during the Christmas Season a couple of years ago I saw, to my disbelief, a large sign tacked up along the back wall of the meat department which read “Merry Beefmas.” In what someone obviously thought was a catchy marketing slogan, the “Christ” in Christmas had been replaced with the word “Beef” in order to move some steaks and prime rib roasts off the shelves as quickly as possible, presumably. The supermarket was crowded that day, but I was the only one exercised by the sign–or so it seemed to me. I asked to speak to the manager and explained, calmly, how substituting “Beef” for “Christ” was offensive to me. A white-faced youth–maybe the creator of the sign, I don’t know–skulked anxiously in the background as I spoke with his manager. To the manager’s credit, the offending sign had disappeared by the time I arrived at the check-out with my groceries. I honestly believe that the person who exchanged “Beef” for “Christ” had no idea who or what the Christ in Christmas signifies. And it really has come down to that in our society. After all, any mention of Jesus, the “Christ” in Christmas, has been relegated almost exclusively to the confines of church and private home. What disturbed me almost as much as seeing “Beef” where “Christ” should have been was the indifference of the other customers in the supermarket that day. Were they unaware of the sign, or was it that they just didn’t care?
The post-Christian indifference to the crass exploitation of Christmas symbols that I witnessed in the supermarket–and that’s what I would call it–carries over into other areas of life as well. How else can one explain our indifference to the dire situation in which many Christians find themselves, particularly those living in countries with Muslim majorities or in countries with Islamist insurgencies? People who identify with the Christ of Christmas are dying for their faith, on an almost daily basis, yet you wouldn’t know it from Mainstream Media reports. One only learns about the persecution of Christ’s followers through alternative news sources like Twitter or the Internet. A pastor shot in the back of the head as he prayed in his church in Kenya, a Christian girl in Nigeria ordered to convert to Islam or die, a Bible translator gunned down in the Central African Republic, a French priest kidnapped in Cameroon: Stories like these never make the six o’clock news.
Inexplicably, you’re not likely to hear stories like these in your church, either, for the church appears as indifferent to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa as is the general populace. At least, that’s the sad conclusion I have reached after listening to almost an entire year of Sunday sermons. Never once was mention made of these modern-day Christian martyrs. Why doesn’t the church express more concern? We’re a caring people, after all, when it comes to “the poor.” Churches, for instance, collect hundreds of toys, games, and toiletries to put in shoe bags to be delivered to Mexican children at Christmas. That’s all well and good. But are we too obsessed with serving the poor? Indeed, have we “sacralized” the poor, to use another’s term? While I was busy collecting items for my own shoe bag, I couldn’t help thinking about the children of the Syrian Christian refugees. What will their Christmas be like–threatened, forced to flee, injured or sick, living in snow-covered tents, cold, hungry…? If Christians don’t care about suffering fellow Christians, who else will? Maybe this Christmas we could take time to remember not just the poor, but those who will risk death or grievous injury simply by attending a Christmas Eve service.
I see from my daily newspaper that a local organization has organized a “Merry Kiss-mas” event to raise money for charity. The public is invited to share a kiss with a loved one under a giant mistletoe and then make a donation. I detect a trend here. Before the “Christ” in Christmas disappears altogether, I’d like to wish any one who reads this blog…