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Friday, December 25, 2009

Let's Keep the Christ out of Xmas.

by Wenda Dottridge

There is irony in my drawing Christmas Day in the blog schedule. You see, I'm not much of a Christmas person. I even flinch as I confess this, because being anti-Christmas is like being, I don't know, anti-Mom or anti-chocolate or something. Look at our anti-Christmas headliners: Scrooge and Grinch. We all know they hate Christmas because they are ba-a-a-a-d people - er - or green (uh) ish Suesslings. But here's the thing. The rest of the year I don't live like a hermit in a cave and abuse my one and only pet. I don't turn my back on love in favour of money or work my staff to the utter bone while I hoard my cash. (Much) (Kidding, really.)

No, my less than excited attitude to the Christmas season is more tied up in all the stress it seems to bring. Year after year.

In the past week I've had dozens of conversations that go like this:

"So, have you done your Christmas shopping yet?"
"No. Between music concerts and basketball tournaments and swim meets we haven't managed to get there yet?"
"Yeah."
"Have you? Done your shopping?"
Heavy sigh. "I'm trying. Only fifteen more gifts to go and stocking stuffers to buy. Merry Christmas."
"You too. Merry Christmas."

Or there's the so-are-you-going-anywhere-for-Christmas-conversation that usually involves more sighs over extended family visits and quips about in-laws. 'Nuff said. That's a whole topic in itself.

Added to an already packed family schedule comes the frenetic year-end activities in which every club, group, workplace, church, or school feels obligated to host an event, several with additional planning meetings, home-baked donations, or rehearsals.
Then there's the shopping for gifts which always cost more than has been hoarded (or NOT) all year. Plus gift wrapping, the tree, outside lights (the one part of Christmas I LOVE because in our dark winters it adds some joy to the landscape), the baking (or NOT), the housecleaning in preparation for houseguests/parties (or NOT). Whew. I'm tired just writing about it.

Is it any wonder depression spikes at Christmas. Family crisis centres are inundated. Suicide rates go up. What has all this got to do with celebrating Christ's birth?

The simple answer is nothing.

All the trappings, all the gift giving, lights, trees, turkey aren't Christian in origin and have little or nothing to do with our faith. They are a cultural celebration adopted from our pagan European cultural roots as part of  annual winter solstice celebrations. Santa Claus is a corruption of an actual Christian saint who gave charitably to the poor, his modern incarnation a marketing tactic brought to us by the Coca-Cola company.
And speaking of marketing, our minds are bombarded with advertisements and secular or Christian entertainments promoting the Spirit of Christmas and other sweet, saccarine, or heart-tuggy (remember, it's almost Christmas, and I'm too busy with Christmassy things to come up with a real word) messages.

And so because of all of the above and more, people of faith have launched various campaigns to reclaim Christmas from the secular, humanistic, greed-fest it has become. There is a popular you-tube video by a Christian band protesting the generic "Happy Holidays" message by insisting it's "Merry Christmas." Or a popular slogan splashed on church signs and gracing car bumpers reads "Keep the Christ in Christmas."

That's fine. Really. For them. For me, I'm content to leave Christ out of what we call Christmas.

But what about celebrating the birth of Christ, our Lord and Savior, you ask.
Well, believe it or not (you will, because we've already established my anti-Christmas tendencies are unnatural) I have an axe to grind with what I jokingly refer to as the cult of Baby Jesus. Nobody says it better than Ricky Bobby in Tallegeda Nights. I say this with a discalimer. I couldn't finish the movie, but did happen to catch the snippet where Ricky Bobby is with his family at the table and bows his head to pray. He starts, "Dear Baby Jesus." An arguement with his wife ensues over his praying to Baby Jesus in which he asserts that he likes his Jesus soft and cuddly and sweet. He resumes his prayer with something like this: "Dear sweet little eight-and-a-half pound Baby Jesus...."

And I laughed and laughed. Because that is how most of us like our Jesus. As a helpless babe. What better way to round out the gathering of friends and family around a Christmas tree than the story of Jesus' birth? The hostile innkeeper, the inhospitable surroundings, and then a sweet baby to gather around and worship.

One secular author I read writes the most fabulous Christmas stories. She often places a child at the centre to bring the adult characters together. Her interpretation of the Christmas message is that a child's innocence redeems us.

And yet our redemption was not won by the Christ child. The miracle of the birth of Christ relayed in the events of Luke 2 is the fulfillment of prophecy in which God becomes incarnate. The miracle is that God, immutable creator, became human in the flesh, in all our frailty and brokenness. He came not as a king, but in the humblest of circumstances. For that we gather to celebrate the Christ mass. For that we worship God, and yes, we worship him in the form of the infant Jesus. Wholly God. Wholly human. A miracle!

But if we leave him in the manger, as so many of us do when the wrapping paper and gift packaging is landfill and the leftovers are finished, we miss the greater miracle. We miss the message of Christ's life. The temptation faced in the wilderness. The bonds of love with his disciples and followers. The power of his miracles. The challenge of the Beattitudes. The lessons in his parables. The confrontation of the religious people who placed law before love. The acceptance of the dirty, sinful, and fallen. The prayers in Gethsemane. The obediance unto death. The resurrection and ascencion.

If we worship him only as the child, we embrace a faith in which nothing more is required of Jesus than his unsullied innocence, and worse, nothing more is required of us.

On Easter morning we greet each other with, "He is risen!" And reply, "He is risen, indeed!" This Christmas morning as you enjoy the company of your loved ones and all the trappings of Christmas that are still pretty wonderful when all is said and done, I encourage you to add a footnote to your Merry Christmas.

11 comments:

  1. Wahoo! LOVE this post, Wenda. Thank you for being bold enough to step out and say what a lot of us are thinking this time of year! Yep, that 8 1/2 pound baby Jesus in the manger just doesn't begin to compare with the one called Faithful and True, on that white charger, with a two-edged sword... That's MY Jesus. : )

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  2. I couldn't wait to read a post with this title. And I couldn't agree more!

    When I woke up this morning and remembered it was Christmas, I thought...hmmm, it's really no different than any other day. The big days were the incarnation and the resurrection--a long time ago in human 'time'.

    But it does represent remembrance of that gift and the joy that comes from family time together and reminding people that you care for them and knowing their wishes for you are real, too.

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  3. Wonderful post, you grinch! You articulated some thoughts that were mere stirrings of the drapery in my mind. I hadn't quite formed the cohesiveness of actual thought with them and I'm so glad that now I don't have to.

    And in the words of Tiny Tim, God bless us, every one.

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  4. I love Christmas as a special family time. I do agree with your points however, Wenda.

    We tried for a few years treating Christmas only as a religious holiday and not doing Santa and etc..., but it made my Mom sad, and my second child insisted on believing in Santa no matter what we said :) Now we do a modest but fun Christmas. I figured no point in getting legalistic. We do three presents each for the kids to represent the three wisemen. Then they get their stockings from Santa, and we do the whole cookies and reindeer food and notes to and from Santa.

    Presents are now opened and stacked neatly under the tree. We had a lovely family Christmas breakfast with the visiting in laws and will have dinner later with all the rest of my family.

    All in all a special day.

    Oh, and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus this morning. Hopefully he'll accept the token, although I'm sure we have the day wrong ;)

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  5. Good Morning and Merry Christmas to one and all!!

    And thanks Lisa and Nikki for seeing past my grinchiness to the message beneath.

    Like you Dina, we tried to limit the whole Santa thing when our kids were small. In fact my teenagers were laughing about it the other day--how I'd tell them that all the red-coated, white bearded Santa's weren't real. And every year they'd still believe.

    And Debra, as I anticipate the day and weekend ahead, the presents, the food, the time to just enjoy the gathering of family (and for my husband to finally sample the hidden shortbread) I agree that there is something special about a holiday celebrate with the people who matter to us most.

    Blessings to all. He is Risen!

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  6. Wonderful post, Wenda! It truly resonated with me. There's been a lot going on with me this December, and little of it had to do with all the prep-work/wrapping for today. What it did entail, however, is just what Jesus was born to do: redeem, restore, and save the world. Triumph over the grave. Reign over the universe, and simultaneously know the inner workings of my bruised heart.

    God bless you! He is Risen, Amen!

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  7. Love it, Wenda! This year I've been particularly struck by the drive to get "just the right gift." Parents on the news being interviewed about how this year, because things are tight, they've had to cut the Christmas budget down to a couple hundred dollars PER KID! Yikes. And watching Michelle Obama escort Oprah through the elaborately decorated White House, all I could think was, "How much did all that cost?" We're how many trillion in debt... wouldn't one Christmas tree in the White House have been enough?

    I do love Christmas, but it makes me laugh when people get all upset about hearing "Happy Holidays." Makes me wonder how often those folks share Christ during the rest of the year. Thanks for a thought provoking, hit-the-nail-on-the-head post, Wenda!

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  8. Wonderful post Wenda. I have had a bit of a different perspective on Christmas this year as I go through the emotions of watching my dad struggle with cancer. It's brought a new perspective and has moved me to shake of the traditions which hold me down rather than seem to allow me to spend more time reflecting on the significance of the Savior in my life. I like the focus of your post.

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  9. Susanne and Dawn, isn't it true that when we face real challenges in our lives, we strip away the clutter to reach for what truly matters. I'm sorry for your pain right now and do pray that you will experience God's abundant love at this time.

    And Jen, thanks for stopping by. Happy Holidays!

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  10. Wenda, I read this on Christmas Day after the gifts were open and the kids were setting up the Beatles version of Rock Band. I had just come from the kitchen where I'd basted the turkey and tsked about not having much baking to present. Being the health conscious vegetarian that she is, my eldest daughter asked why I didn't have a freezer full of baking this year and I answered that I just hadn't made time. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen baking, I'd spent the time working on my writing. At the time it seemed a worthy compromise but on Christmas Day, the guilt struck me with force. But then my daughter asked if the preceding weeks had been stressful and I replied they hadn't, not like usual, anyway. She said that was the most important thing, then. I rather liked her reasoning and it went well with what you'd written here but before I could comment, hubby shoved a mic in my hands and told me to sing Octopus' Garden.

    So here I am, on our Cdn Boxing Day, and after re-reading your post, I wanted to say your post touched my heart. So much so that, I've just rushed into the dining room and re-read it aloud to my daughters and hubby. When I finished, Nelson nodded and said, 'Yup, that's what it's all about.'

    So, from my house to yours, thank you for your gift of words. Enjoy your holidays.

    btw - my children laughed when my singing on Rock Band scored lower than any of them. *sigh

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  11. I'm not anti-Christmas because, as with most holidays and social observations, it is what you make it. Still, I love this post. We do need to realize that Christ was not a child when He gave us His sacrifice, and we must not remain childish in our relationship with Him.

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