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"Demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by equipping local churches in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of children orphaned by AIDS in their communities."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Harvard at Christmas - Happy Holidays?

We've all seen or participated in this pressingly tense banter about the "War on Christmas." I, myself, have thought the same from time to time. Just this morning, I was reading a discussion among Zambian pastors about what it means to celebrate Christmas in this world today. Interestingly, their conversation was about whether Santa has dominated the perception and power Christians have of Christmas more than Jesus has lately. I think their conversation is more interesting and more relevant than the one our country is having. With our consumerism and rage, we too help drive out "Christ" from Christmas in an effort to throw an over-the-top, memorable Christmas. But that's a different conversation.

Read a CNN story on the War Against Christmas.


It's a debate easy to become part of, where we see the attacks on the traditional visual symbols of Christmas in public places (manger scenes, Santa Claus, the Christmas tree) and think our world has become overly politically correct. We lash out at all those people stealing Christmas from us -- the majority -- and wonder where will it end.

Some of you may know that I'm doing a Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. What's been interesting for me over the past 1.5 years is to experience 2 Christmas seasons at Harvard, here in the Boston area. Known the world over as one of the most liberal places on earth, full of overly PC people that will seize every opportunity to knock what is Christ in Christmas - denying me the joy that is my right to proclaim the coming of my King.

I know what it's like to be torn down for being a Christian in New England. When I was a kid growing up in the Boston area, I was openly mocked on several occasions by teachers for my Christian faith, commanded to put my Bible away from public sight by teachers & the principal of my school (even when I hid it under books on my desk). I remember in 10th grade, I was laughed at by classmates and blatantly left undefended by my teacher when explaining I was a virgin because my faith called me to remain so until marriage - in a sex education class, no less. "Virgins, raise your hand" is a line my mother won't soon forget when I came home from school.

My junior year in my public high school, friends and I started an FCA huddle, which is basically a Bible study before school starts for athletes and other believers. You can read the blog of my high school buddy, Pastor Mike, who captained the huddle with me way back in 1997-98. :) We had 3 people our first week in a school of about 800, though about 20 were coming by year end. From starting that huddle, school administration initiated weekly conversations with me about how far is too far to even discuss Christianity in school. Thankfully, these were civil, but still difficult for a kid my age to deal with. A kid can only take so much. But we kept moving forward, knowing our rights and knowing our charge from the Lord.

When I moved back to Boston - I worried. People SHOWERED me with concern and fear about "those people" up there that will attack Christianity and Christmas. Still, that's what people fear when they hear I'm at Harvard. I admit, I feared the same, even though I grew up around here.

But, here's the thing. Instead of turning against Christianity, I've found just the opposite up here. An openness, warmness, and curiosity. This semester, all four of my classes read from the Bible at some point during the semester and 2 of my classes dedicated significant time to studying different people in the Bible as examples of leadership. The Intervarsity Christian Fellowship here is vibrant and about 50 people in my school are active in the Harvard Christian Fellowship group that meets every week.

Beyond the Christians, I've actually learned some things about Christianity from people that haven't bought into the idea that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. Though we disagree on some things (large & small), they daily teach me about openness and how to love people from all walks of life. Daily, Christian love is modeled to me by people that reject my life choice, but love me for who I am. Rather than chastise me, they welcome my input and are sponges for more information about this Jesus I claim to serve. At least 12 different times this semester alone, I've found myself in conversations about my testimony -- at their initiation. On 4 different times, I was asked in a class to talk about who Jesus is to me and why He matters today.

The common theme throughout is a realization from staff, faculty and students that we need anchoring values - principles that drive us and shape us, even if they make us uncomfortable or they are inconvenient. There is a natural drive at Harvard to be the best - a drive shared by each of us. But, there is also a surprising level of self-sacrifice and willingness to love people across the Board.

When Jesus came, he came first to redeem the world and save us from our sins. He came to offer us the gift of eternal life - a front row seat to worship him throughout eternity. We just need to say YES. As a Christian, I value what Christmas means more now than I ever have for lots of reasons. But one of the main ones is that the holiday season really is a happy one for me --- it is a Happy Holiday.

On three distinct occasions this week, I was verbally attacked, or saw someone attacked, for saying Happy Holidays by people who claim to be Christians. They very well may be. But each and every time, I wondered if our love for protecting our own conception of Christmas was more at the root of the issue than a moral repulsiveness we claim to the idea of Christ being taken out of Christmas. I'm all for saying Merry Christmas, but I'm also for Happy Holidays.

In Christ, I have found my savior. I'm happy during this holiday that is celebrated by many, but not rooted in all at their core like it is for Christians. The dignity of others - in my Muslim classmates, for example - is valued and their own special times of year are upheld when I greet them with a Happy Holidays. By no means does this mean that I'm REJECTING Jesus, nor does it mean that I won't say Merry Christmas to a fellow believer. In fact, by not saying Merry Christmas to someone I know isn't a Christian, I believe it gives even more weight to when I do utter it to fellow believers.

So - what's the point of this little rant? It's this. I'm thankful for the Lord and Savior, who came and was born in a manger because there was no room for Him in the inn. He came and died on a cross for my sins and yours, thereby saving me from eternal damnation and providing me an opportunity to live my life as He has called me to live --- to love God, love my family, and love my neighbor. LOVE my neighbor - even those that don't celebrate "Christ"mas.

So - let's seize the Christmas season and live, as Christ called us to live. Let's love our God, love our families, neighbors and our enemies. If we strive to embody Christ here on earth, as He asks us to live, our actions and our words will resemble more of the Christmas season than our Christmas trees will. Our example may help us find our voice in a world seemingly moving away from God, not toward Him. With it, we may also finally manage to hear the voices of others that do not believe - once our shouting about things that ultimately don't mean much to God, nor should they mean as much to us.

I'm sooooooo excited about Christmas and the gift of Jesus Christ to our world. But, with the deepest part of who I am, I'm also wishing my non-believing friends and believing friends a very Happy Holiday, as well.

From my house to yours - MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

-Ryan

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