It’s the holly jolly season, the time when people go around day after day, admonishing each other to remember the real meaning of Christmas. Since the advent of social media, this tiresome holiday habit has become even more prevalent, as people tweet and post Facebook messages about the right way and the wrong way to express the holiday spirit.
One of the current manifestations of this true meaning of Christmas meme being sent around is a photograph of a newspaper advertisement representing a gun shop in Fort Worth, Texas. Shown below, the ad features images of a carbine rifle and two pistols, along with the message, “Let’s put Christ back in Christmas!”
The message is that, by gum, some people just don’t seem to understand the true message of Christmas, which is that Jesus Christ brought us peace on Earth, and would never have supported the spread of guns in his name. How could people misunderstand the message of Christianity to such an extent that they would sell guns in the name of Jesus?
Actually, there’s good reason to supposed that Jesus would have been perfectly okay with the selling of guns in his name. There are parts of the New Testament that can be interpreted as promoting nonviolence, to be sure, but there are also other parts of the text that seem to be promoting violence, and the possession of weapons of violence.
Of course, two thousand years ago, there were no such things as firearms, so the New Testament never mentions rifles or handguns. The New Testament does, however, mention other weapons quite a bit. It’s a violent book, in which swords in particular are given prominent attention. In fact, the sword is one of the central symbols of Jesus. It’s fair to presume that what the New Testament says about swords, it would also have said about handguns and rifles.
In the Gospel of Mark, the followers of Jesus are described as carrying weapons, including swords, and using them in violence against their religious rivals. The earliest Christians seem to have been heavily armed, and ready for a fight.
Jesus was often threatening to those who did not follow his commands. He attacked money lenders in the temple, and warned that, after he ascended to Heaven, he would soon be back, and would be prepared to get tough. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised “vengeance”. In Thessalonians, this threat of revenge is expressed as ” vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who shall be punished with everlasting destruction”.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “Never think I have come to bring peace upon the earth. No, I have not come to bring peace but a sword!”
In the Book of Revelations, we are given a vision of what Jesus is going to look like when he returns to the Earth. He’ll have not just a sword in his own hand, but an entire supernatural army carrying weapons, and soaked in blood. “He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in Heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
For those who doubt that a gun shop could sell weapons in the name of Christmas and Christianity, there is the New Testament verse in which Jesus specifically commands his followers to buy weapons, even if they have to sell their clothing to do so: “he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one”.
Selling guns seems like a perfect way to put the Christ back in Christmas. For those preachy people who insist that guns are by nature incompatible with the real meaning of Christmas, I have some understanding and sympathy, recognizing that religious texts like the New Testament are open to a great deal of creative reinterpretation to suit the desires of particular religious followers. I do suggest, however, that advocates of non-violence recognize that there is much in Christianity that supports violence and weapons ownership, rather than repudiating. Perhaps the Christmas holiday, which tells a story prefiguring terrible torture, execution and vengeance, isn’t really the best foundation for a message of peace.