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?"
"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.
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 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.
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.