Okay, nearly a week has passed by since my Christmas rant. I knew, theoretically, that there were lots of other pastors who shared the same allergy to the consumer takeover of Christmas. The biannual struggle for such preachers is the need to get through Christmas & Easter services without wasting your few chances to connect with the Christmas/Easter/Mother's Day crowd by lambasting consumerism and secularism. In my quest for Advent resources, I've happened upon a generous handful of rants in a similar vein as mine. They invariably include hysterical references to the egregious sin of including the Magi in the Christmas Eve pageant; you'd be amazed at the rage cultivated toward this impurity by people who normally shun biblical literalism (the Magi are Epiphany characters - not to be found in the same creche as the shepherds).
I am hoping that we're all just using the internet as a dumping zone for all our extra holiday baggage so that we can offer up something less bitter in real life to our parishioners, friends, & family members. Despite the cynical Christian's ambivalence about secular traditions, their significance as family traditions is real and valuable.
I did happen upon one Advent story that knocked the hot air out of me. Jenee Woodard, the archivist extraordinare behind the invaluable lectionary site, Textweek, posted a story about the first time her son, who is Autistic, asked for something for Christmas. She writes, "It is no bliss to have a child who doesn't get it - who doesn't want anything and doesn't want to have anything to do with Christmas commercialism - or it is only bliss in some romantic fantasy. In real life it is a surreal nightmare."
I've also been thinking about Christmas at the Quaker meeting I used to attend. Their practice for Christmas is to give each Friend an opportunity to light a candle and share a Christmas story. Some of the stories I heard in that circle will stay with me forever. Many grappled with loss despite the prevailing spirit of celebration. A woman shared that her mother died around Christmas when she was young. For the rest of the season, the lights on the Christmas tree went unplugged. Darkened Christmas trees since pained her terribly. She explained that each night while the tree is up, her husband sends her upstairs first so that she doesn't need to see the tree unlit. As she told this story, her husband came and knelt by her feet, and held her as she wept.
Dostoeyevsky writes that if you love everything, you will perceive the mystery of God in all. I can only wonder if that is true, because I am so far from loving everything. The miracle of the incarnation - which we so stubbornly maintain that Christmas is all about - insists that divinity took human form; spirit became enfleshed. The body, which Greco-Roman culture viewed with such disdain, became a temple for the Spirit of God. A baby was called King; the ordinary was consecrated.
There is something wrong. I truly am alarmed and demoralized by the state of American Christianity, with its preference for nominalism over discipleship. I can continue to go the neo-Jonathan Edwards route, preaching a "Shoppers in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon. Or I can trust the spirit and the truth of the incarnation, and believe that God has the ability to pervade and redeem even that which seems farthest from the way of Jesus. The Christmas gift can be a token of hope. The Christmas tree, strung with a rainbow of lights, can be a healing symbol of one man's sacrificial love for his wife. The whole lot of it can be saturated with the Holy Spirit, and perhaps we will laugh when we see Her in spite of ourselves.