As Christmas approaches someone, somewhere, will start talking about a supposed “attack on Christmas.” They will then make the further allegation that Christians in the United States are somehow being persecuted because they can’t put up a crèche on public land, organize a Christmas pageant in a public school or have the greeting “Merry Christmas” emblazoned on City Hall.

I don’t buy it.

I do not perceive that Christmas is under attack. It is true that Christmas is widely misused. It is misused by those who insist that it is their God-given right and their patriotic duty to force the symbols of their faith on others.

Nativity scenes are not cultural symbols. They are faith symbols, symbols of a God who enters human history in the form of a vulnerable child in the care of a poor family living on the far border of a powerful empire. This symbol sends a message. It sends a message that has thrived, does thrive and will thrive without governmental support or sanction. The message of Christmas does not need the implied blessing of a place of prominence in the public square. It needs simply to be taken seriously.

I do not perceive that Christmas is under attack. It is true that Christmas is easily misunderstood. It is misunderstood by those who view it as an opportunity to say “Christians are the religious majority in this country. The majority rules. If we want to force children from non-Christian backgrounds to sing Christmas carols we can. If we want to demand that holiday greetings from elected officials carry the message ‘Merry Christmas’ we can. If we want to question the faith of those who refuse to join in our ‘defense’ of Christmas we can.”

Sadly, this misunderstanding runs counter to the central message of Christmas which is about a God who has decided for the force of love and against the use of all other force, even the force of majority rule.

I do not perceive that Christmas is under attack. It is true that Christmas is readily misinterpreted. It is misinterpreted by those who see lavish gift giving as a test of faith, unbridled celebration as a sign of spirituality, unrelenting repetition of the phrase “He is the Reason for the Season” as their reason for being. When we make Christmas into a test of any kind we do it a great disservice. Christmas is an invitation to hope, not a test of religiosity. The shepherds who were “keeping watch over their flock by night,” these often disparaged members of society who heard the angels sing, were invited to go to the manger to see “what the Lord had made known” for themselves The angel did not say that their faith was being tested or their worth as human beings being questioned. The angel simply said there was good news for all and that they might want to check it out.

Christmas is only under attack if it is about cultural superiority, majority rule or tests of religiosity. In reality it is about none of these. Instead, it is a fragile gift that is often misused, misunderstood and misinterpreted. It is a fragile gift that is about choosing, not about forcing.