We are now in the full grip of the holiday season, sprinting with cheerful (or not-so-cheerful) determination towards that almost platonic ideal of a perfect Christmas:
Tree lit, candles in windows, presents (preferably a lot) under the tree, cards sent, carols sung, family gathered, food (again, preferably a lot) eaten, everyone satiated after binging on the delights of the season.
But – is there anything of a homeless single mother giving birth to a baby in a barn, next to a crapping cow, in that?
In other words, is it Christian?
There’s a shadow side to our cultural celebration, one that I’m sure Jesus does not approve of.
It’s the call I got almost every year with someone (generally single, generally poor, generally with kids, generally a mother) saying, “I have no money for presents! My kids won’t have Christmas this year!” (Because everyone knows that presents make the Christmas.)
It’s the relentlessly positive Christmas cheer which only serves to silence everyone who experiences a renewed feeling of grief and loss when loved ones aren’t present.
It’s the narcissistic consumerist orgy that consumes people who are otherwise kind and generous; people who will then go into mountains of credit card debt to buy their children that tenth present, even when many in their community go hungry or are alone.
It’s the unquestioning adoration of Santa Claus – a religious figure who loves you only if you’re nice and demonstrates your value by giving you stuff. Presumably, the more stuff you receive, the more you are valued, which means that children from rich (or debt-ridden) families inevitably are worth more than those who come from families who are poor (or frugal.)
Even when you add in the advent calendars, packed worship services, and Jesus-themed Christmas carols, this Christmas celebration bears nothing but a slight cosmetic resemblance to the religious celebration I hold dear.
And honestly, that’s fine.
There’s much in this season that’s good.
I want to celebrate anything that can encourage our culture to stop, to connect with strangers, to demonstrate generosity, and to cultivate gratitude.
If you want to participate in our culture’s festival celebration, that’s great. I certainly will.
But, if you want to celebrate Jesus’ birth, I think he amight say to you, “Before you sing me carols, stick plastic figurines of me on top of your mantel, or stack up presents, go out and feed some hungry people, befriend some lonely people, or exercise some compassion for those who may not be as blessed as you are.”
Here’s praying that you get caught in the grip of feeding the hungry, befriending the lonely, and exercising compassion this holiday season.
That’s the type of celebration that I think Jesus would be pleased with.