FERGUSON: ‘Tis the season to be offended

December 13, 2013 

This will be my last column before Christmas rolls around, so we’ll call this my special-edition holiday column. Are you offended because I called it a “holiday column” instead of a “Christmas column”? If so, read on and make sure you keep your indignation handy, because I’m writing this one just for you.

Every year around this time we all witness or hear secondhand stories of some cashier in a local business getting the business from a customer who is deeply wounded when they are wished a “Happy Holidays” instead of a “Merry Christmas” when they are checking out. That hapless cashier, who is likely just following the direction of his superior so he can keep his job, is subjected to a sermon by the offended shopper for “taking the Christ out of Christmas.”

I am often amazed at the things people get offended by. I really don’t care if a sales clerk says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or just, “have a nice day,” and I can’t believe anyone has the time and energy to argue with someone over something so trivial. I’m also aware that Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s and Kwanzaa are all celebrated around the same time of year, so going with a generic greeting seems to me like a reasonable thing to do in a religiously diverse culture like ours.

But some people obviously strongly disagree and see the lack of overt Christmas recognition by the retail industry as part of a satanic plot to ban any acknowledgement of our Christian heritage from the public square. Because, I guess, what really pleases God are loud, public affirmations of our system of beliefs, and real Christians getting in the face of anyone who doesn’t explicitly acknowledge their religious observance.

When I hear things like that I am always reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:5-6: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

I don’t think that means one should be ashamed of his/her faith and never mention it in public. I think it means that if you are using the public square as a stage to show the world what a super-Christian you are, you’ve kind of missed the point. And when you berate some stranger for not offering your preferred holiday greeting, I think that’s exactly what you’re doing -- glorifying yourself and not God.

Perhaps there are better ways to put the Christ back in Christmas than verbally assaulting cashiers. Let’s turn again to the words of Jesus to see what he said his followers should do if they wanted to do God’s will.

When a rich young man asked Jesus the way to heaven (Matthew 19:16-21) Jesus told him not to murder, commit adultery, steal or lie. He told him to honor his parents and love his neighbor. The young man told Jesus that he had kept these commandments all his life.

Jesus told him there was one more thing he needed to do. He told him to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. The young man walked away sadly because that was something he just couldn’t do.

Just something to think about as we max out our credit cards to buy stuff for people who already have more stuff than they know what to do with.

I’d like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, a joyful Kwanzaa, and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. And for all the Jehovah’s Witnesses out there -- you have a nice day, too.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Centerville. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com or visit his blog at nscsense.blogspot.com.

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