The Phone Call
I received a message on my phone the other day from a concerned parishioner. She is part of the Gab ‘n Grow study group that meets on Wednesday afternoons at the church. At the study group, she has been trying to convince me that Christmas isn’t as bad as I am making it seem. It might have some issues, but it certainly still has some redeeming qualities that cannot be overlooked. So I had to chuckle when I listened to the message that was left.
During group that week, I reiterated the story to them about searching through Target for the word “Christmas” and being sorely disappointed that the only words that seemed to be printed were “Happy Holidays”. (See “Skipping Christmas“ – Part 1 for more on this experience.) She informed me that she had just gotten back from Target and that there was indeed a large printed sign with the words “Happy Holidays” hanging above the rather large section containing all of the holiday ornaments and other holiday paraphernalia. But what I had missed – and what she couldn’t wait to tell me – was that on the other side of this sign was an equally large printing of the words “Merry Christmas”. Checkmate! The game is won! See, even Target still celebrates Christmas!
I openly laughed at the absurdity of the discussion. Here we were having a friendly discourse about the meaning of Christmas and we were using the existence (or lack thereof) of words printed on signs inside of large retail establishments. (“No, really, there must have been a virgin birth. Wal-Mart is still stocking ‘Christmas’ wreaths, not ‘Holiday’ wreaths!”)
It occurred to me at that point that I may be playing the part of Ebenezer Scrooge even though I am not meaning to do so. Have I been looking for reasons to discount Christmas as an exercise in obscene consumerism today? Have I been unintentionally adding to people’s frustration and issues that they have, making it worse for people by pointing out all of the negative aspects of the holiday? Have I set people up for failure rather than for freedom?
This same friend told me in the class that I needed a Christmas miracle. I think she might be right. I do need a miracle. But I don’t think that I am alone.
The more I think about it, the more I understand that Christmas is a personal holiday with a public dimension. I guess that could be said of many of our Christian holidays now, and I’m not sure that this is how it is meant to be. The Christian Church has been spending a lot of time in recent history preaching about Jesus as one’s “personal Savior” whose sacrifice has washed away all of our “personal sins”. So it isn’t surprising that we have become a Christian culture obsessed with our own personal standing with God and not nearly as interested in the societal sin that has permeated (and actually become) our Western (and in particular) American lifestyles. We have added to the inequity that permeates our current economic system by being complicit in the takeover of Christmas by the consumerism of Santa Claus and his orgy of gift-giving to all of the good boys and girls. I didn’t know that Christmas had much of anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ until I was almost a teenager. Fortunately, I feel that this current reality is being challenged. Miracles are happening.
Many churches are reminding people in not-so-gentle ways of the true meaning of Christmas and challenging people to give money not only to family and friends but also to others. And I’m not just talking about “Toys for Tots” or “Adopt-a-Family” programs. I’m talking about Third World relief efforts, the feeding and clothing of the hungry, and other social and economic justice issues. Churches are using this time of year to raise awareness of global suffering and inequities in our social systems and are challenging people to take action not just financially, but politically and physically as well.
That’s the miracle that I needed to be reminded of – the miracle that Jesus was born and everything changed. This is a season of birth, of beginning. This isn’t the end of the story, this is just the start. The miracle is that it was all begun by the birth of a Savior King so many years ago.
In that moment, I realized that having my “Swiss Christmas” isn’t about skipping anything. It’s about restarting things and acting responsibly in a necessarily fresh and new way. It is a clean slate and a new beginning. It’s not about re-discovering Christmas. It’s about uncovering what has been there all along.