Christmas Miscellany

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Here’s an odd thought which just occurred to me, so I haven’t had time to gauge its worth. The much maligned commercialization of Christmas has created a significantly more community holiday than the spiritualizing of Christmas.

Because of the crass marketing, we have to spend a goodly amount of time thinking of those we know, buying them the right gift or at the very least sending a card wishing them the best. We receive gifts and share food and go to parties and have conversations with people who we may not talk to until the next Christmas celebration.

However, a Christmas solely consisting of religious observance wouldn’t have any of that. We would go to our various services, trapped in our sphere of decadent devotions, Praising Father and Son for all they have done, little noting those who are right next to us. We would speak our liturgies in monotone cooperation, the words echoing off the walls and little elsewhere. Then we would speak words of peace, brief acknowledgements of people whose name we don’t even know, having done our religious service for Christ and Kingdom.

It would be a somber event, requiring no travel, no interaction, no consideration of any other. Christmas would be like Pentecost, a grand day of honoring the work of God by doing hardly anything signifying the real meaning. We would wear our advent colors and sing festive hymns but have nothing pointing us more outward past our usual self-centeredness. Jesus would, like he always does, act as our personal savior and Lord, so personal in fact we would rather do without most everyone else mucking up our devotionals.

Yet, the commercializing of Christmas snaps us out of our persistent isolation. We have to, by culture’s rule, spend money on others, talk with others, shape our lives so that others are convenienced, often inducing season weariness due to our social exertions. We give, and give, and give, so much that the extent of giving becomes a sign of our improvidence. Instead of devoting our entire religious zeal towards an altar and a few men at front we swing widely the other way, using this as a time to celebrate and solidify our community.

We are filled with good cheer for others, and they are filled with good cheer for us. That is the bounty of a commercialized Christmas, which in a perverse way honors our togetherness in a way the Church merely rhetorically symbolizes.

Matthew 25 notes this peculiar interaction Jesus had with his followers:

I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

The commercialized Christmas causes us to reach out in ways the purely religious Christmas never would. Sure we would honor the coming of the Christ child, but would not think past our attendance at liturgies or other religious acts. It would be a Church thing, for which we would dress up and honor our devotion to a noble cause. Then we would go home, no different than other times of the year.

Our present mode of church life would not encourage our right response but would continue our tradition of something other.

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

A commercialized Christmas may seem to make just these mistakes, ignoring those in need for those we know. Yet, a non-commercialized Christmas would certainly be no better. Rather than having a semblance of thought for anyone, no matter their level of need, we would do our religious duty and worship Jesus in exclusion to considering anyone else. This is how our churches function, when left to purely religious emphasis. Only when we are snapped out of this do we think of others, and only in the commercializing of Christmas are we really snapped out of our insulated rituals to spend a moment thinking outwards.

Somehow, by the emphasis being removed from the scene in the manger we may just be getting a sense of how Jesus would want us to celebrate. He certainly wants our devotion, but it seems our devotion to him is less caught up in overwrought rites and more about using our zeal in ministering to others. And, at this time of year, this ministry is all about good cheer, gift-giving, peace making and celebrating the lives of those in our lives. We are motivated to reach out to those who have little, and share what we have as others share with us. In this we have communion, real communion, instead of the anemic so-called communion our churches exemplify.

So break the jar of the most expensive perfume and wash the feet of all those you know. Celebrate Christ by celebrating the body of Christ, honoring God in the joy of our interactions with others, taking this rare time of the year to truly acknowledge those around us, knowing that every other week we can return to our somber, isolated religious commemorations.

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