Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas Revisited

The season is over. Most people I know have packed up their trees and decorations and I'm sure many kids are getting sick of what was "the best toy EVER" just a week ago. But I can't stop thinking about Christmas. I previously mentioned my frustration with the so-called war on Christmas. But there's something else that keeps my mind spinning.

There's a ministry in the area in which I live that currently has a TV ad out that is a short animation which explains how Jesus is the reason for the season and how he was born into the world for its salvation. (Followed by an invitation to watch their televised services of course.) I've seen people with "Merry CHRISTmas!" on their lapel or facebook status. And I've heard so many lament that no one really seems to get the true meaning of this season.

All that to's what my overly analytical mind has been dwelling on: Isn't over-spiritualized mass consumerism still mass consumerism? What kind of cognitive dissonance has allowed us to joyful profess that the baby Jesus came to the world in the most humble of ways, born into a manger, the Lord of all becoming the least of these for our sake and then dream of a Lexus with a giant bow on top sitting in our driveway? How does our practice of such excess honor His example of humility and charity?

My mind is struggling to reconcile the two. I see all the pageantry and flash in the way in which we celebrate the holiday and I read biblical accounts which seem to suggest that the birth of Christ was largely unnoticed by those around at the time, which the exception of some lowly shepards and the magi bearing gifts. I imagine that families within the city of Bethlehem rose the next morning under a sun that looked just the same as it had the day before. And in spite of the prophecies, the true nature of this child wouldn't really be revealed to most until he was much older.

I'm currently reading "The Man Who Invented Christmas" about the creation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." A chapter that recently caught my eye was one in which the author discusses how the celebration of Christmas had fallen out of fashion in both England and colonial America under Puritan rule in the 1600s. Its celebration was banned entirely. In an effort to make conversion to Christianity more appealing, Christmas Day had been declared to be the same day as the popular Roman Pagan holiday of Saturnalia. That was people wouldn't need to give up their most enjoyable traditions. The Puritans were appalled at the ties to Paganism and immorality that they saw in the celebration of Christmas. They at one point declared December 25th a day of fasting and repentance. That was the original war on Christmas. It wasn't Christians feeling as if everyone else was out to eliminate Christmas celebrations, it was Christians themselves trying to eliminate Christmas celebrations.

Do I think we should ban celebrations? Absolutely not. However, I just can't shake the nagging feeling that when the holiday is more stressful than peaceful, more disappointing than fulfilling, and more gluttonous than charitable, we're not honoring much more than our own self-indulgence. I saw a Southern Baptist preacher on Fox News talking about remembering the true reason for the season. One of the things he said was that in order to honor the gift God gave us in Christ, we should give good gifts to others. Really? That's the true reason for the season? In a time when many are struggling to get by, the best way to honor God is through material gifts? The more time I spend with American Evangelical culture, the more I'm convinced they must have some special translation of the Bible that I don't know about.

If we truly believe that Christmas marks a time when God so loved the world (the whole world-no exceptions) that he sent his son to become a sacrifice for everyone (everyone-no exceptions), shouldn't that be the spirit of the season? One of hope and love towards others (everyone-no exceptions)? Regardless of if they say "Happy Holidays", fast through Ramadan, have a menorah in their window, believe in nothing outside of humanity, believe in millions of gods, or just don't know what to think about it all? If the basis of Christian theology is that God sent His son for everyone, including these people, aren't we endorsing the exact opposite viewpoint when we insist on fighting them or behaving in a generally condescending manner towards all who think/believe differently than ourselves? I don't know if there's any logical way to reconcile what this means in practice, I just know that a lot of what I saw this season, including what I saw from those who defend it the most strongly,  reflected very little of the proclaimed "reason for the season."

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