A university issuing guidance to avoid the word Christmas would have once provoked outrage in James Mildred. But nowadays, he’s learning to shrug his shoulders and focus on something far more important
The University of Brighton has issued a language directive advising staff not to use the word ‘Christmas’ because it is too “Christian-centric” and runs the risk, apparently, of insulting non-Christians. Instead, the term “winter closure period” should be used when referring to the end of term.
My first thought upon coming across this story was: Who on earth is paid good money to write his sort of stuff? Is coming up with language directives really a good use of the university’s budget? Couldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere on services that actually benefit students?
The document is, technically, just advisory, so I presume some staff will just ignore it and continue using the word ‘Christmas’ - an utterly inoffensive term that has been used by the wider population for hundreds of years.
But what this despondent directive does illustrate, as if we didn’t know it already, is that the UK is a secular country. While the air around us still contains traces of Christianity, it’s fast becoming more and more polluted by secular values.
Another secular story
Every year, stories such as this one appear: cards containing offensive jokes about the Christmas story; shops deliberately removing anything distinctly Christian; councils banning Christmas trees or present giving. And with each passing year, my response has become more muted.
Let’s not be distracted by absurdist stories, which make for good headlines, but ultimately don’t really mean anything
What once provoked outrage how induces a mere shrug of my shoulders.
If the University of Brighton wants to tell staff to avoid using the word Christmas, let them. What harm will it really do?
Interestingly, according to the most recent census data, Brighton is the most secular part of the UK, so perhaps this is just par for the course.
From a biblical perspective, I’m reminded of Psalm 2. In this psalm, the rulers of different countries come together in a coalition to reject God and his anointed king. They seek to throw God away and break free from their supposed chains.
But God just laughs at them (v4) - because the idea that any human being, however powerful, can just airbrush out God is totally absurd. You can issue as much guidance about words as you like. You can never change the glorious, historical reality that, more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ, the eternal son of God, was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem, just as the scriptures foretold.
Surely that’s what Christians should focus on. Let’s not be distracted by absurdist stories, which make for good headlines, but ultimately don’t really mean anything.
Doing the work
This Christmas time, my church has sung carols in streets, knocked on doors, delivered evangelistic magazines, held a Christmas fair and hosted two carol services. Other churches will have done even more. We’ve seen new people reached and the good news faithfully proclaimed.
This is such a special time of year, where people are, still, just a little bit more open. Let’s get on with reaching people with the astonishing news of what the incarnation means for them. No wonder the angel told the shepherds that he had good news for them, which, he said, would cause great joy for all people (Luke 2:8-10).
People around us are tired and depressed. There’s a war in Ukraine, rising living costs, spiralling energy bills, high inflation and, to top it all off, flu is doing the rounds this year like never before, taking advantage of our weaker immune systems after two years of Covid restrictions.
What we need
We have a message of indescribable joy to share. And it’s a joy not based on circumstances but bound up in a person. That person is the Messiah – God’s anointed King - who entered this world to seek and to save. He’s the Lord, fully God and yet he became fully man for our sake, so he could be our representative and mediator. He is the saviour.
The idea that any human being can just airbrush out God is totally absurd
You see, if our greatest need was to be entertained, God would’ve sent an entertainer. If our greatest need was for more money, God would’ve sent a banker. If our greatest need was for a holiday, God would’ve sent a travel agent.
But mine - and your - greatest need this Christmas is for a saviour. We are sinners, and we all need saving. And that’s exactly what God has provided.
So, let’s tell that story this Christmas time. Let’s pray that we will see the mighty, saving power of God on display as sinners are saved and enter the joy of knowing and being known by God himself.
The University of Brighton may have cancelled Christmas, but it will take more than a 9-page language directive to stop the kingdom of God expanding and the Church of Jesus Christ growing.