Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-11
Sermon: “CULTURE WARS: The War on Christmas?” by Pastor Todd Buurstra
As some view it, within the “culture war,” there is a “war on Christmas.” You have to say, “Happy Holidays,” and aren’t supposed to say, “Merry Christmas.” Nativity scenes are no longer allowed on the township green, though I think a nice Menorah and a little Joseph and Mary could go a long way to gussy up our township buildings. In the stores you hear mostly “Jingle Bells,” and very little “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Is there a war on Christmas?
Well, that’s one way to look at it, but then I like to listen to what good, secular folk say about this church debate. I hear them say, Look, you had your day in the sun when America was a WASP nation. But now my friend is Hindu, my kid plays with a Muslim, and I don’t know what I believe, so you still want us to listen to Silent Night at WalMart? Hm, are we being respectful?
So how might Jesus want us to “fight” any “culture wars,” or at least address culture?
The church’s knee jerk reaction is too often to “fight the culture war” aggressively. Never say anything but Merry Christmas! Start a petition for a crèche on the Bridgewater Township lawn facing BRHS, even if we’re nice enough to include a Menorah. Only shop at stores that play religious tunes, etc, because God’s relationship with culture is antagonistic.
I was sitting next to a visitor at Rotary who got a wide smile when she realized I was a pastor. (Usually when people find out, they don’t smile, but they sit up straight, and watch their language, maybe even wince a bit.) But this young woman is part of the launch team of Liquid’s third and newest young adult church in Nutley. When she told me how they were meeting resistance from their Nutley neighbors—the culture wars jumped to mind. But then she said this,
That’ll all change when we start serving the community [like tutoring at risk kids in the schools].
For Isaiah pens in beautiful poetry that God’s relationship with culture is not antagonistic, but transformative. Even more than that, Isaiah’s poem paints a picture of heaven on earth with a flourishing culture! This world will not just grow cold and die per the secularist, nor will it just blow up like in the movie 2012, but heaven will be a renewed earth with a flourishing culture of:
Politics (in God’s eye public service is a very noble profession) v.3…
Business (poverty is not God’s will, but prosperity for all is) vv. 5b, 6…
Technology (ships of Tarshish were the most advanced ships) v. 9a…
Religion (yes, God loves healthy religion) v. 9b…
Security (to finish Craig’s work) v. 11a…
So if we agree with the proponents of “the culture war” that culture is important to God—so important that God calls us to transform it, and that transformation will last all eternity—then how does Jesus call us to engage the culture this Christmas? I don’t believe Jesus wants us to berate it, as if God hates culture, but I believe Jesus wants us to rebuild it through service. The church’s wagging finger is to be replaced with the towel and washbasin of the Great Footwasher.
How does the church serve a transforming culture for Jesus? Just live out your calling. The called are not just Mark, me and Anna (welcome back—don’t miss her story on Christmas Sunday at 9:30 AM of how God was reborn in her during her ministry studies in Lithuaina). God has called you to serve culture through your restaurant, your computer skills, as a lawyer, as a mother, as a teacher. I was sitting at dinner with two gay teacher friends talking about education reform. Our gay friends were probably skeptical about me at first, since I represent condemnation , but they’ve come to enjoy me as a friend and respect me as pastor. Kathy was talking about one colleague who does the least amount possible, while she’s running around like a chicken with her head cut off to help this one first grader who can’t get along with others. Kathy described her fellow gym teacher’s typical response as, There was an email? I didn’t see that. I said, In my vocabulary it sounds like it’s just a job to him—where for you it’s a calling. Yeah.
So, live out your calling.
Make beer, but work to prevent alcoholism.
Teach sex education, but encourage lifelong commitment.
Create computer code that will help solve real problems.
Arrange flowers to give us a scent of the Garden of Eden.
Love Johnny, but teach him to clean his room.
Live out your calling by serving culture in a way that will last into eternity because God loves it!
Honestly, I don’t believe that Isaiah would see it as a culture war, but more of a cultural hunger to see us live as if God really became flesh at Christmas by serving though our callings.