I felt disappointed and validated at the same time. This Christmas we dragged a manger scene out of our garage that we had made for a Christmas display in 2004. One neighbor said she liked it, but whoever lives in the second floor apartment across the street posted two signs in their windows. The hastily scrawled signs feataured upside-down crosses and the words, “Hail Satan.”
At least someone noticed.
The apartments in the building across the street from us are usually rented by people who need temporary housing. Often tenants have recently come to New Zealand from other countries like Korea, China and India. My husband often meets the tenants while he cools down from running or works in the garden, but he doesn’t know the people in this particular apartment. They have as much right to display their “Hail Satan” sign as I do my manger scene; though I like to think our display brings more joy to the neighborhood than theirs.
I’m sad for these tenants to whom a Christmas display on private property can cause such animosity, but I’m glad it makes them think. We didn’t put our scene out to offend anyone, but we live in a free country and we don’t intend to quit displaying it before Christmas either.
In New Zealand we lack some of the antagonism toward Christmas that I’ve been reading about in the States. Our city posts a sign every year that reads, “Remember Christ at Christmas.” Though we have our share of people who don’t like Christian teaching, no one’s telling us not so say “Merry Christmas.” The YMCA hosts a large “Carols by Candlelight” program in the park each year with carols about both Santa and Jesus. Though it may not last many more years, many public schools still have teachers who come in and teach approved Bible lessons to all the students who don’t opt out. (I taught a class like this in 2014 and 2015.) But I fear we are not many years away from the same intolerance toward Christian observance that the US is currently facing.
Indonesians who attend our church tell us that, in Jakarta, the high Muslim population objects to any Christmas display, even Santa or a Christmas tree, on the grounds that Christmas is a religious holiday. Only in towns that have a high percentage of Christians are they allowed to put up Christmas decorations.
Today, even in countries like the US and New Zealand, Christians are forced to take a look at how they can celebrate Christmas in a way that honors Christ without deliberately causing offense. Perhaps you’ve seen the Christian movie, “Christmas with a Capital C.” It shows how Christians in a small Alaskan town react when their right to display a manger scene is challenged. First time through I was anxious to see how the movie treated the delicate subject. In the end I think the Christian characters got it about right.
When do we fight for our rights to display items related to the birth of Christ and when do we set aside our rights in order to be less offensive?
The answer to this question isn’t going to be the same for everyone. Circumstances and the leading of the Lord will mean we each need to blaze our own trail of response to these challenges. Whatever we do, I believe we need to be motivated by a sincere concern for unbelievers rather than a desire to push Christ in their faces and win arguments. I believe we represent Christ best when we react with genuine love, kindness and goodwill toward people who are offended by Christ.
At the same time, maybe we need to work harder to exercise the freedom we have while we have it. The tiny bit of opposition we’ve had to our manger scene this year makes me think it’s worthwhile dragging it out of the garage every year. A few might not like it, but to others who pass by, it’s a reminder of what Christmas is all about. Opposition speaks with a booming voice, but we should not let it silence our voice for Christ.
Unbelievers may put constraints on some of our Christmas celebrations, but they can’t steal our joy unless we let them. May your Christmas this year be filled with joy and kindness as you celebrate Christ’s birth with friends and family.