In a recent post I mentioned my conversation with my daughter and it had triggered some thinking about what it is that we, and the world, love about Christmas, what went terribly wrong in the message, and what Christians should return to our observation of the holiday.
Why everyone in the world is touched by Christmas…in spite of their efforts to resist
Christmas has everything that we love, the things that touch us most deeply, it has all of the triumphant declarations of the Good News. I wrote something a few years ago, which describes this :
“under all the layers, inside the wrappings, what is the essence of Christmas? Those of us from a Christian upbringing wave our hands:”Jesus, Jesus!”. The wise Sunday School teacher will respond, ” Yes, but why is Jesus this answer and what does this mean to us?” That is where we decipher the code of the symbols. They are keys to unlock a treasured message.
Angels, those mysterious heavenly beings, and a star, a heavenly portent, give us the first clue. The heavens are opening, God is using His own means to reach down into the world of mankind.
The timing and the situation are not the most propitious by man’s standards. The little town of Bethlehem, by reason of decreed taxation, is chosen in one of the lowest times of Jewish history: dispersed, oppressed, with no sign of relief. It is at this time and in this place that the signs appear – but to the few. The young Jewish maiden, the shepherds, and magi, these are the few to listen to the message of the angels and follow the beckoning of a star. The message is God’s message, the listener’s few, but the portent is great: Peace”.
A message of peace, that elusive prize that comforts the hearts of men. It is a pervasive peace that penetrates the lowliest stable, that reaches out to the farthest lands, the isolated places, those with riches, those with little. A reconciliatory message to those who were sure they were unwanted: a Savior is born.
The code of the gifts has changed their expected meaning. Though there was lowliness of a stable, there was the honor of the gifts – costly and symbolic. They were not lavished for like reward, or on the altar of prestigious men, they were given to the champion of all who were born without reputation, favor, or fortune.
And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, Which shall be to all people.” “For unto you is born this day in the city of David A Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
-The Gospel of Luke
And what about the tree, the feasting, the secret gifts, and kindnesses? What about the music and the lights and the trim?
Those are ours. Those are our responses of joy, appreciation of love and family, celebration of the gifts of the earth and the promises of heaven. The exultant light shining in the darkest hours of the earth. The acceptance of the message of hope and the celebration of some of heaven’s mirth in our own homes. A stretching of ourselves in the compassion and gentleness that notices the others around one.
This message of God is not without some pain and disappointment. It is not without some deferral, waiting, and sacrifices. It was all there in the symbols. It remains there, because the story is true.
Here is the final key: wherever and whoever you are, you are not forgotten. The Savior who came is awaiting you still. It is a banquet a little different than you imagined. Where your soul rather than your belly is filled. For it is from the soul that a life worth living is born.
Now the message of Christmas is deciphered. From the deepest darkness, from the least hopeful circumstances, God’s love gives a light and a life that despite all odds will shine.
That gift is Jesus. And that is reason to celebrate.”
There is something so wonderful in the Best of Heaven identifying with the lowliest of us, of taking notice of our loneliness and need. This lavish giving brings a response in us, the magnanimity amazes us and inspires us. There is something so freeing and so marvelous in such giving. People everywhere love this… the generosity of spirit that freely smiles, that richly blesses, the “good cheer” flowing from person to person.
Genuine efforts to cooperate, to show good to ones fellow man, this is what attracts people to the idea of Christmas, but it has also led to its counterfeit.
The Commercial Christmas is a counterfeit, a reasonable one, but different purposes and different in expression than the real. The commercial one is the exploitation of generous impluses, the lust of the eye, and the imagry of love with none of the substance.
And so it is not hard to see how the world thinks it may strip out the heart of Christmas and embalm the trappings. It is not apparent to them that they are separating out the gold from the dross and the dross is all that will be left them. Tawdry and tarnished, already the aspect of Christmas without God’s Love in the center brings derisions and disappointment.
But we Christians have promoted the commercialization because we felt that it was the perfect opportunity for us. People drawn by the love and light filled the Churches. Softened hearts sometimes repented and saw the true light. There was patience for hearing the message and respect for the courier, there were open doors and the words of hymns filled the streets. We were hooked.
In the march of the centuries we had public plays and nativity scenes, these remained as last remnants of the Church given first place in our lives. This becoming the point of contact for those wishing to root out the Christian religion.
But is this where we should contest our case for Jesus Christ? Should we argue for the trappings? Or should we return to the humble and loving expressions that make the poor and dispossessed the target of our largesse? The children and the loved ones the center of tender expressions of love?
Shouldn’t we return to the spirit of Christmas? Wouldn’t that reach more than open Churches and special services? Isn’t it time to go out into the highways and the byways… and isn’t that what the first Christmas represented? Didn’t the angels come to the shepherds in the fields? Didn’t the Holy Family reside in a stable- outside the official residences and meeting places? Didn’t they need an open home more than a decorated synagogue?
Where is the heart of Christmas this year? Where did it go? Where will we find God this season?
I suggest wherever the heart is open and the wherever the worshippers will make room. If it is your Church, that is good, if it is in your home, that is better, …but if it is given place in your own heart… that is the very best place of all.
We should not argue and fight for our place this Christmas…. we should wrap ourselves in the spirit of it and spread it with the most generous welcome. I, for one, won’t miss the counterfeit….no matter how brightly it glowed and sparkled. The real is so much more precious and rare.