19 December 2007
Christmas and the Jewish People
Jews and Jesus seem to live in two different worlds. They appear to be representing two different religions. Melbourne’s Darren Levin, writing in last week’s Australian Jewish News, thinks this. “Jews don't believe in Jesus. How do I know this? I am one - and I can't recall any glow-in-the-dark crucifixes or fibre-optic Mother Marys in my parents' Caulfield South home...Being a Jew who doesn't believe in Jesus - I find it difficult to believe in Christmas.”
Separation of religions makes sense to Levin and to most people. Levin wants Jews who believe in Jesus to be ‘over there’ and Jews who don’t believe to be ‘over here.’ Some aver that it’s better to separate all religion from us. Keep religion over there and secular information over here. But with Christmas strewn all over our diaries and across our shopping malls, it’s increasingly difficult. The news media highlight this with cases in point this month.
First the shocking tale of the British primary school teacher in Sudan who was forced into exile for allowing her year-two students the privilege to name their stuffed teddy bear after the wrong person. Fair enough, it’s their country and they can do what they want, but fanaticism gone mad almost cost Gillian Gibbons more than a few days in jail. The word got out about her negligence and offending behaviour, and immediately the television broadcast hundreds of protestors on the streets in Khartoum screaming for her head. That must have given her pause. Why? She offended the religionists in Sudan who thought she was mocking their founder. Obviously this was an innocent mistake, and we saw a story of political correctness gone mad.
But it’s not only mad in Sudan; look at Bondi Junction in Sydney’s east. Outside Borders Books is the generous holiday display with Santa and sleigh and everyone’s digital Kodak opportunity (for $50 a shot). The glittery balls and silver decorations remind shoppers of Northern Hemispheric holidays of Dickens and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” The massive decorations rise from 4th to 6th floors. Along the side on the 6th floor, tucked away between a restaurant and a travel Mountain Design store (was that planned to represent the family’s travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem?) is the manger panorama including the three wise men. It might reach 5 foot high. Religion gets a hearing, barely visibly--it’s there, but it’s being pushed to the apparent side is a slur at best.
Over in the USA, Sears, a large retailer similar to our Myer, has changed the names of their Christmas trees. They say, “The reason for our use of holiday tree is due to [our being a] very diverse company, we do not want to offend any of our associates, but also our valued customers. We decided to call them holiday trees because even if Christians are the only religion that uses a Christmas tree we still do not want complaints from other customers of different religions complaining about our use of Christmas.”
Something appears to be happening in the religio-pc world today. If I understand it correctly, here in Australia, Christmas is a national holiday. Everywhere else in the globe, the green trees people decorate in December are called Christmas trees. What is the fear of the use of the proper name of the holiday?
I’m not sure why anyone would be offended because a store has a display that highlights a holiday of someone in particular. Do unattached people protest Valentine displays sold from the local Target outlet? In Indian neighbourhoods, do people who are not from India protest the display of Diwali activities? Of course not!
People who do not celebrate Christmas are not offended by its celebration by others, are they? Back in 2005, Sears did the same thing. They pulled the word Christmas from their stores, and told employees to wish customers “Happy Holidays.” Sears received so much pressure from the people that year, that it reprinted its ads to include Christmas and rushed “Merry Christmas” signs to all of its retail outlets.
Ben Stein, the American Jewish actor/comedian, wrote in his commentary, “I am a Jew, and it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit-up, be-jeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.”
“It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crèche, it's just as fine with me.”
There are still many Jewish people who want to avoid any mention of the holiday. Some like Levin want to keep things separate. They prefer not knowing that the little boy was in fact a Jewish baby born in the Bethlehem village stable. Maybe they don't want to know that Y’shua (that’s the Jewish way to say Jesus) was born in fulfilment of biblical prophecy from previous generations. Maybe they don’t want to know that Y’shua lived his entire life in Israel and gave himself for Jewish people throughout his days. Yet he did. He even died in Jerusalem, and rose from the dead there on the third day. But that’s another season, isn’t it?
So what do we make of the pushing of the manger scene to the side of an escalator on the 6th floor in Westfields? What of political correctness? Will I be allowed to wish people Happy Anzac Day in due course, even though some fought against our troops at Gallipoli? Can’t we let others have their religion and let this truly be a multi-cultural country, not a monolith of sameness?
Here, or in your neighbourhood, or in your life, maybe the word of the Christmas carol writer should ring again: “Joy to the world! The Lord has come, let earth receive her king, let every heart prepare him room.”
On the panorama in Westfield are the words of the carol “The First Noel”-- “And by the light of that same star three wise men came from country far.” Perhaps, more important is the song’s chorus which lifts us with the repeated “Noel, noel… born is the king of Israel.” He is our King, oh Jewish people. He is our Messiah. He is our Saviour, and we would do well to give him place this year and throughout our years.
Give him proper place or pull the plug entirely. He’s not a sideshow; He’s the host!
But that’s the problem with religion and separation, isn’t it? Some want religion to be ‘over there’ and leave us alone ‘over here.’ God wants us all to know him personally and let over there come over here. Let your heart prepare him room.
Bob Mendelsohn is the national director of Jews for Jesus Australia. He and his family moved from the US in 1998 to found the organization in Sydney. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or 1.800.988.077 in Australia.