Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Keeping Christ(mas) out of Advent?

Does anybody truly think that Christ can be “taken out of Christmas”? I only ask because the annual “Keep Christ in Christmas” talk has begun – there was a letter to the editor a week ago, and a couple of email forwards in the last couple of days. They speak as if the actions of a retailer or of a government will somehow prevent Jesus from being born this year.

If I might be allowed to paraphrase something I read somewhere: “O ye of little faith.”

I mean, for real, how weak does your faith have to be in order for it to be threatened by a Mega-Mart employee policy? How fragile are your beliefs when some random town council calling a decoration a “Holiday Tree” causes a faith crisis? Just how shallow is your relationship with God when your kid’s school has a “Winter Concert” and it makes you cringe at the disgusting political correctness that is corrupting Christianity? (Writing with a tongue-in-cheek tone of voice, you understand.)
Okay, okay – I’m sorry. Where is that “grace-filled dialogue” that I’m supposed to be all about? I guess I needed to rant that little bit out of my system, though, in order to ask the question honestly once again. Does anybody really think that Christ can be taken out of Christmas?
To be sure, the “liturgical purist” Christian will not even celebrate Christmas until December 25th, when the season begins. This celebration would continue until January 6th, when Christmas actually ends. Presently we are celebrating Advent, the anticipation of Christmas. So our decorations and carols are really “Advent” decorations. Our greetings to one another should technically be “Happy Advent” rather than “Merry Christmas.” The local “Christmas” radio station would maintain their regular formatting except during the actual season, rather than start the Christmas music at Halloween and end at midnight on December 26th, like they do now.
So wouldn’t a true “Keep Christ in Christmas” attitude be one that avoids any mention of mangers, shepherds, magi, and multitudes of the heavenly host praising God in the field until the season actually starts? During the weeks leading up to the season, instead of little plastic baby Jesus in the front yard, there would be little displays of Isaiah laying into the house of Jacob, reminding them of God’s cosmic vision of peace on earth. Or maybe a light-up John the Baptist, complete with flashing camel hair, pointing at us with a crazy, angry expression on his face, telling us to prepare the way of the Lord. Instead of a wreath on the door, we could hang up decorative chaff burning with unquenchable fire.
The point I’m trying to make is that neither the Mega-Mart nor the local city council nor the administration of the elementary school is trying to remove Christ from Christmas, nor could they ever hope to succeed even so. They’re just trying to be what they are. Instead of getting angry at them this Advent, let’s channel that energy on a bit of self-reflection as the Church. How can we more intentionally prepare ourselves during these next four weeks so that the birth of Jesus might be all the more wonderful, mysterious, and meaningful this year?
Keeping Christ in Christmas means waiting - with patience and expectancy - for Christ's arrival. Maybe the problem is we just don't like to wait for stuff. "I want my Jesus born right this instant!" Sorry, that's not how it works. And so, we wait. Adventus - Parousia - Coming. As in, not quite here yet, but any minute now! And something about waiting patiently with expectancy and hope speaks to what faith is really all about. Wait for it.


Anonymous said...

Sort of like waiting 9 months for a baby to be born----hard to wait to see what that baby looks like and feels like in your arms,etc.

As I read your post I thought 4 weeks is sure not long to wait---from start of Advent until Baby Jesus is born.

Also, thought about this time last year your entire family was not only waiting for Christmas Day but also a birth of a baby that took place on Sunday, Christmas Eve.

Larry B said...

"The point I’m trying to make is that neither the Mega-Mart nor the local city council nor the administration of the elementary school is trying to remove Christ from Christmas, nor could they ever hope to succeed even so. They’re just trying to be what they are"

What's most frustrating to me is that "They" didn't use to be like this. It was ok for these organizations to indulge in a bit of religious sentiment from time to time. Not so much anymore. It's not because Christianity has somehow changed, it's because these organizations have had to change. That seems to me a sadder statement of the influence of our Christian witness and it's seemingly less effectiveness in all aspects of society, not just recognition of the religious content of certain holidays.

John said...

I remember back to my days as an atheist. The elimination of the word "Christmas" deeply annoyed me even then because it was an attack upon my culture. It got under my skin when newscasters and the like would put on their stupid grins and say "Seasons' greetings." I just wanted to slap them. And now, as a Christian, I still do, for about the same reason.

DogBlogger said...

I'll post a pic of the Advent wreath yard display (which The Alpha custom-built) when we put it out front this weekend.

Why yes, we ARE liturgical nerds; why do you ask?

Anonymous said...

So many people want our country to be a "Christian" country and come all unglued when references to Christianity are removed from the public arena. It often sounds as though these people think christians are being persecuted. But, hey, Christianity has always flourished when under persecution. Maybe this is the answer to the decline of the church in the USA! Really though - I like your ideas on this matter, Andy. And the plastic Isaiah's and John's are funny to think about. When will the Christian church in the USA stop wasting its energy on such trivia and get to work righting some of the really, truely wrongs that surround us all the time. cb

Donna said...

cb, my adult ed class just finished Douglas John Hall's _Why Christian?_, in which he makes a very similar point to the one you offer.

Hall believes that the decline of "Christendom" is really an opportunity for the church to get back to focusing on community (or, more accurately, koinonia), faith, and mission.

I take his point, and yours, well.