My friend Jodie recently posted this on Facebook: “If anyone will design an app that will block red cup stories from showing up on my feed, I will be their first customer!” Bummer too, because I think she would have liked this Red Cup blog post. But I get where she’s coming from, after all, Red Cup reactions and blog posts are showing up like unwanted guests at the holidays. So here’s one more unwanted holiday guest for you to smile at, while trying to be gracious and not say anything regrettable. Good luck.
As far as I can tell, there really seems to just be one video that set this topic ablaze over the past week. Like much of what we react (or overreact) to, one person throws out an idea, a strong opinion or a few “facts” and people brazenly, and passionately take sides. Personally, I think we’re so fired up over the pre-election process that opinions and ideologies about everything are just stronger and closer to the surface than usual. And the thing we all love and hate about social media, is the speed at which ideas and news can spread, and this one has spread far and wide.
If you’ve been on a social media fast the past seven days, you’ve missed the fun. In summary: A man (pastor?) was upset that Starbucks removed “Merry Christmas” from their holiday coffee cups, replacing them with a plain red cup with the company’s logo. He challenged people, that when a barista asks their name (to write on the cup for their order) that people should respond with, “Merry Christmas” so that each Starbucks store will be shouting Merry Christmas multiple times a day.
I’ve seen hundreds (literally!) of responses to this. I’ve seen videos people posted of their “Merry Christmas” trickery in coffee shops around America, and I’ve seen the head-shaking of others who are stunned by this outrage. Some call it a war on the Christ of Christmas, and others wonder why a secular business is being harassed for not celebrating Christmas. One man posted, “boycott Starbucks for their hatred of Christians” and another man posted, “Just drink your coffee and shut up!”
This issue has brought to the surface a few thoughts I’ve had about the Overboard Life in the context of culture. Here are a few ways that I’m processing this event with principles that go way beyond whether or not Starbucks helps me celebrate Christmas.
- I’ve never heard anyone begin their Jesus story with, “I saw Merry Christmas written on my coffee cup and wondered, ‘who is this Jesus that came and died for me?’” Look, I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, I’m just saying that in 20 years of full-time Christian service, I have never once heard anyone start their testimony with those words (or anything close to it!). A few years ago Lowes Home Improvement was under the wrath of the Christian community for celebrating the holidays instead of Christmas, and ditto...I never once heard of a person coming to Christ because of seeing a “Christmas Tree” in a Lowes catalog, instead of a “Holiday Tree.” Let’s remember that keeping Christ in Christmas has nothing to do with how secular businesses advertise sales for our consumer-hungry culture, but has everything to do with how we show Him to others. Keeping Christ in Christmas should be more about how we treat and respect our baristas, and less about what words are written on our favorite coffee cups. Keeping Christ in Christmas should be more about how we choose not to indulge in pure consumerism, but rather, how we choose to give generously to others and celebrate the greatest gift in history -- God sending His only Son that He might become the ultimate payment for our sins.
- Merry Christmas doesn’t change hearts even if it makes yours merrier. I love a hearty “Merry Christmas” as much as the next guy. Believe me, I’m not a “Happy Holidays” kind of person, because to me, what makes the holidays happy is that there is significant meaning to them -- life-changing meaning to those who have met the Savior we celebrate. Sometimes I think we fall prey to the idea that if everything said “Merry Christmas” on it, life would be significantly better. But Merry Christmas has never changed a life, any more than moral laws and regulations can change lives. I know in American culture it’s easy to look back at the good ol’ days of a country that reflected traditional Christian values, but those morals didn’t change hearts! Just because a culture embraces a Christian ethic doesn’t mean the citizens are more Christian. In fact, I firmly believe it’s easier to hide in that kind of culture, to go along with the moral crowd while harboring nothing that resembles life-giving faith and belief in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.
- In some ways, I think a non Merry Christmas culture gives a chance to truly stand out. For so long it’s actually been relatively cool to be Christian, or at least, to represent convenient Christian values. Almost every politician, including our most recent president and presidential candidates, have tried to cater, at some level, to mainstream Christianity. That’s changing and I think it’s good for those truly living the life of faith, truly living the Overboard Life. The opportunity in America to stand out because of a different life-style, one governed by an unchanging truth and centered on an undead Savior, is greater than ever before. The previous generation stood strong against much of the cultural shifts (and in many cases, for good reason), but today, we have a chance to be for the truth that sets people free. That movement for something will entrench us clearly against a culture where we are no longer the “moral majority,” without us having to utter a single word of opposition. By being for strengthening traditional marriage, ending the plight of the starving orphan and rescuing people from the darkness of pornography and sex-trafficking, the culture will know we stand with Scripture on the issues of homosexuality, poverty, slavery, and sexual values. Our “for” values will strongly imply our “against” values without having to speak a word of opposition; we will stand out in this culture that believes it's normal to discard fetuses, marriages and God-designed sexuality and considers it strange that we don't!
- The Gospel must be central or our Merry Christmas is meaningless. I’m afraid that a lot of church-goers who are fiery hot about this Merry Christmas issue, reflect little of the Gospel in other parts of their lives. By hash-tagging Merry Christmas they try to make a statement with a tweet or post, or with strong words of “I’m taking my business elsewhere” in an online comment on a company’s Facebook page. Yet after they trick a barista in to saying, “Merry Christmas” they pull out of the parking lot and scream at a driver who cuts them off in traffic or they overspend on life’s luxuries and have nothing left with which to help the widows and orphans in their community or around the world. They view pornography on the privacy of their phones, they raise busy kids who have little time for the Lord, they cut corners at work, lie to their spouses, drown life’s troubles in consumption or they move from relationship to relationship, marriage to marriage, in an attempt to escape life’s emptiness. I don’t care about your Merry Christmas if it’s void of the Gospel, and you shouldn’t care about mine if my life doesn’t reflect the eternal change provided by the Jesus of this holiday. The Gospel must be central in our lives, influencing us everywhere: in our interactions at coffee shops, in the car when we’re in traffic, at home when we’re alone, in our families, in our singleness, in our politics, in our churches, in our communities, in our blog posts, in our study of the Word, in our work to bring justice and water and food to the oppressed, and in living out the truth of a life changed by Christ.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Merry Christmas, and I’m for moral laws and for promoting a strong Christian ethic in our homes, churches, schools, sports teams, communities and country. History has shown us, however, that those things don’t change hearts. But if we win the war for the hearts of the lost, we will gain these other matters, too! Russell Moore writes, “The heated and outraged rhetoric of evangelicals in the political and media spheres is often directly related to the ineffectuality of Christian distinctiveness in our living rooms and pews.” In other words, we’re not bringing the Gospel into our homes and churches, so why would we expect the culture around us to embrace the Christ of Christmas?
“Merry Christmas” will not be influencing my holiday joy this year, because the Gospel has already won the day. May your Christmas be fixed on Him, too, so that even your Red Cup barista knows you belong to Jesus.
Go ahead and take the plunge, even your Christmas is better on the water!