It’s the fear of Christmas Trees. And it’s more serious than you think.
This week North Korea warned its southern neighbours against the erection of a giant Christmas tree on a hill near the border, where it can be seen from a North Korean city. Read the full story here.
North Korea’s official website labelled the tree “a mean attempt at psychological warfare”, saying “The enemy warmongers … should be aware that they should be held responsible entirely for any unexpected consequences that may be caused by their scheme.”
Now, see, that’s why we need to be so careful. That’s why it’s so preferable to say “Season’s greetings”, to sing Jingle Bells rather than carols, to display a Santa rather than a nativity scene. People get offended. Even by a Christmas tree (that most biblical of symbols), let alone a direct mention of, well, you-know-who. J—s.
So what do we Sacred Agents do with this, apart from rolling our eyes and making cynical comments to one another? (Like At least they didn’t offend environmentalists by using an actual tree, or Psychological warfare? If they’d wanted to do that, they’d have lit up a giant Westfield sign) What can we learn? Here are a couple of thoughts…
It Takes Two to Tango.
The picture of the giant tree brought this verse to my mind: “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3) Perhaps like me you wince in response to Christmas cards, songs and plays misquoting the angel as saying “Peace on earth, and good will to all men.” Many wince at the words “peace on earth” as if it is some sort of mistake in the Bible. U2 wrote a song about it. Where do we see peace on earth? Certainly not on the Korean peninsular this year. Many see it as a failure on God’s part.
But think about it. Peace cannot be imposed, only offered. It takes two to make peace.
Yet sometimes the offer of peace is not received in the spirit in which it is offered. Sometimes the offer of peace is rejected as “psychological warfare.” What a good thing that the official North Korean website doesn’t actually speak for the souls of all North Koreans!
“Peace on earth and goodwill to all men” is a terrible mistranslation of Luke 2:14. What the angel said is “(Glory to God in the highest and) peace on earth to people of goodwill.” It’s an announcement that, to the glory of God, peace is offered to people who will receive it. On God’s incredibly generous terms – the Saviour will bear the expense. The Bible isn’t wrong, it’s incredibly realistic – there will be many who are not of goodwill, who love darkness even in the presence of light, because their deeds are evil, and they fear exposure. Christougenniadendraphobia is just a symptom of christophobia.
Finding a Person of Peace Takes Courage.
In an excellent recent blog post, church planter Ben Sternke reckons he’s come across the key to finding “persons of peace” (Luke 10:6). I think he’s on to something.
The key, says Sternke, is the willingness to find persons of un-peace. Jesus anticipates this in his further instructions to his Agents. But do we?
If we’re looking for a missional strategy that offends no-one, that keeps all doors open, that doesn’t “put anyone off Jesus”, then don’t dare put up a Christmas tree, let alone mention the Birthday Boy. There is no such effective strategy. Our message, God’s offer, will be rejected. We as messengers will be abused. An agent is not above his handler; if they abused him, they will abuse us also.
This does not give us license to be arrogant, insensitive, or abusive ourselves. The medium is the message. But the message is not “God loved the world so much that he did nothing because he didn’t want to be perceived as manipulative.” The message is “peace on earth to people of goodwill.” And there are some out there, and those courageous enough to shine brightly in the darkness will find them.
Merry Christmas, grace and peace, Sacred Agents!