Of Holidays and Citizenship

‘Tis the season for gentle snowfall, sipping hot cocoa by the fire, hanging lights, and… fighting a fierce and bloody war to defend the holiday of Christmas.

That’s right, it’s officially War on Christmas TM time, boys and girls. And that means leaving no stone unturned in the search for things to be offended by. No baby Jesus on the courthouse lawn? Persecution! No “Silent Night” at the kid’s Christmas program? To arms! Calling it “winter break” instead of “Christmas Break”? Battle stations, everyone! Someone wish you “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas?” It’s a horseman of the apocalypse!

We’ve even moved beyond those traditional theaters of war this year into the realm of not-so-subtle racism, with Fox News battling suggestions of inclusivity by making sure everyone knows the “verifiable fact” that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white.

Look, I get it. I really do. Drawing battle lines, creating a “them” for “us” to rally against, engaging in a war… it makes sense. It does. We do it because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Morally superior. It gives us a (twisted) sense of purpose and calling, something that feels worthwhile to accomplish. And it allows us to create a separate group of people, whom we can blame everything on when anything goes wrong. Drawing battle lines creates a built-in scapegoat for all our problems and issues.

Underlying it all is the unspoken assumption, our expectation, that our civic leadership endorse and embrace our specific religious belief system. Until they do, and do so wholeheartedly, we will continue to find (or create) reasons to be upset and offended.

Unfortunately, all of this runs contrary to how I read the narrative of faith in the Bible. That narrative, to me, majors on a theme of inclusivity, not exclusivity… a theme of tearing down walls rather than building them, erasing battle lines instead of drawing them. It centers on an idea of loving everybody (even regardless of what holiday greeting they use), and beating our swords into plowshares. To give up the battle in favor of gardening. To stop destroying and start creating.

Along with that, this narrative teaches me something about who I am as well, and it couches it in terms of citizenship. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul writes at one point, not in this world. For Paul, this was a direct contrast to his Roman (read: privileged) citizenship. For us, let’s make some folks uncomfortable: We are not citizens of America. We are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven.

There’s no dual citizenship here. There’s no foot-in-both-worlds possibility. When we choose to become citizens in the Kingdom, we renounce our citizenship in the world. We renounce our American citizenship.

We’re not “Christians first, Americans second” — we are, essentially, no longer Americans.

That idea has far reaching implications on a number of levels and issues. But during this time of year, the holiday season, what it means to me is it does not matter whether or not civic leaders legitimize the symbols of our faith — the symbols of a rival and competing kingdom.

It does not matter where we may or may not be not allowed to place images of Jesus… after all, the image of our Creator is borne by all of us in flesh and blood, not in plastic light-up made-in-China dolls.

It does not matter what holiday greeting you receive in a checkout line… after all, Jesus’ most valuable lesson was that Christians ought to demand privileged status in society and be offended when we don’t receive it. Or the exact opposite of that. Whatever.

Loving God and loving people, sacrificing yourself for the sake of others, is what being a citizen in the Kingdom of God is all about. And doing that most assuredly does not require putting a label of “Christmas” on everything or having a white baby Jesus doll on a public lawn.