It’s Christmas time again and you don’t even know when exactly it started. Was it after Halloween when the stores put up decorations, or after thanksgiving when radio stations started playing Christmas music?
It’s mid December and it’s clear that you are supposed to be in the Christmas spirit, wishing people something merry and adding an adjective before a holiday.
You do this every year and what was once a childhood dream has been jaded by repetitious seasonal traditions. You put off putting up a Christmas tree until someone in the house begs you to get the signal that your home has begun to acknowledge this sacred month. You forgo Christmas lights outside, again, because you now have a house that is too tall, with a difficult tiling that makes it impossible for things to be strung. All you have to do now is plug in one device that spreads hundreds of colored lights onto your home and even that is easy to put off until it’s not worth the effort because the holiday has passed.
What do we do with this Christmas cynic that is equivalent to a very passive grinch? You don’t steal Christmas joy from others, you just don’t ever start.
It’s simple, but profound and it takes some maturing and a change of mind. The problem is you have been stuck in trying to make yourself feel something around the holiday for years to no avail, then eventually you just stopped trying. You gave up because you believed Christmas was just for kids and part of being an adult was accepting that Christmas joy was a phase of life now over.
Christmas has been the same for two millennia and it’s not the tradition that has lost its meaning, it’s that you either never understood, or have forgotten what millions of people have been doing for the past two thousand years.
You sing them in hymns, but these words you started questioning because they didn’t make sense. What is “Noel” and do people even know why they make giant signs in their yard, or display windows on the side of a business complex to the design of these four letters? Is it that we admit we are too lazy to find any other word than Noel that is used once a year and is the shortest from the list of Christmas vocabulary?
Christmas, has anyone questioned the most obvious of word choice? “It has the word Christ in it,” you are told, but you know better than to let that fly as a sufficient answer. You remind yourself that the wisemen are not supposed to be a part of the nativity even though you don’t know that word either. You heard that Jesus wasn’t even born in December and some Church leader in history decided to choose the date of celebrating Christ’s birth right around the winter solstice which also happens to be a pagan holiday. We have been hoodwinked our entire life not knowing why this was done or even that it occurred. This is the greatest insult to your intelligence when you meet your first Christmas cynic to ruin the month with this important piece of information about December.
Christmas trees are the next to be deconstructed and with that you begin to question your resolve for any of it all. That’s the stunted spirit of the holidays that stops you from ever starting acknowledging the Christmas season. “Bah humbug,” you say to the the truth naysayers that want Christmas their way. But you know the truth that Santa is disconnected from Jesus and the giving of presents just promotes our own selfishness and entitlement born from our capitalistic culture.
Everyone makes the most money in the 4th quarter banking on this wide spread hysteria of mass spending. Churches are filled to the brim as even the non-believer manages to make their way to a Christmas Eve service.
“I’m saving room for the heathens,” is my reason for avoiding the bustling church parking lot. Your church now offers services a week in advance and that plays right into the cynic's hand, I can go to church and say it was my Christmas Eve service because the church has even asked you not to attend the regular 24th of the month, one time a year mass gathering of strangers to a church they see twice a year. Even the church acknowledges they need to make room for the heathens...well those are the words of the cynic and not the church leaders who truly understand the sacrifice they are making that week.
To all the Christmas cynics out there who wish in their heart there was a logical reason for joy and hope this time of year, here is what you need a dose of: reality and intent. The reality is that the Christmas vocabulary, although not explained each year, is something you should look into to enlighten your years. Noel is traced back to a Latin word meaning birth and therefor the song that says it’s the first, explains the first birth is at hand. Christmas refers to the Christmas service, a traditional church mass is a gathering of people and this one in particular is to again, acknowledge a birth. A nativity scene is the “birth” scene of the baby Jesus in a manger found by the shepherds in a pasture, because there was no room in the inn. The angels had called them to honor the true shepherd that had been born that day.
Santa was actually a church leader, a saint, known for his generosity to the poor. The gifts we give each other are symbolic of of the gifts brought to a very young Jesus. It’s about the giving and the intent of, “What does it mean to honor someone else above yourself?”
But what about the magi, their gifts didn’t arrive on Christmas? Well Christmas is a traditional service that was never intended to be a historical account of the birth of Christ, but a service acknowledging all the symbols from the immaculate conception to the arrival of, or advent, of the king. So within this service is a culmination of ideas and thoughts intended to solidify an annual celebration that acknowledges all parts of the great story. What better place to put it than during a season that other people already recognized? It’s smart marketing if you want the masses to focus on Christ instead of their old paganway of life.
It would be ignorant of course to neglect to mention that other traditions in Christendom have their own Christmas Day that tries to accurately reflect the date of his birth. Just look up the Eastern, Greek or Coptic Orthodox Christmas and realize the differing opinions and traditions from other parts of the world.
What is the heartbeat to bring the cynic back to life, the notion that will elicit the right holiday emotion? It’s recognizing that the innocence of this birth is the opposite of the life of guilty verdicts we live. We are juxtaposed to this Jesus that from the very beginning, living a perfect life when all of us are bound to wander away in our mistakes.
Christianity is the only religion where God allowed us to wander and wallow in our sin, knowing that He would one day reach down to us in the form of Jesus. Not simply would he make himself known to those who were lost and bound in sin, He would be put to death on our behalf, haven taken every sin with every beating and slander, every blood drop and tear, and with his last breath on the cross exclaim it is finished. From his first breath to his last, it was you he had in mind. His life was the gift that is given is what we truly celebrate. Yes Easter is coming to complete this, with his resurrection story, but here we stop and witness in awe and wonder the Word become flesh to dwell among us and bring us into the light. It wasn’t easy, this birth, it didn’t come without sacrifice from Mary and Joseph, who bore this great responsibility to bring this child into the world.
As any mother knows, being with child, with your first child, is both magical, memorable but also painful. Maybe mothers understand Christmas more than us who are not. Maybe our part is Joseph, to stand by in eager expectation and hope as the protector of this tradition.
Let’s say goodbye to this passive grinch, the cynic isn’t needed because they are missing the heart and need to be benched. Immanuel...God is with us...salvation has come and it’s not what we could do for ourselves, it is the free gift of God to all who believe the Jesus story in all its truth and hope to bring us back into the presence of our Father. The true shepherd is here to lead us and guide us, may we face this season with gratitude and teach others that tradition is only as important as the story we place with it. Don’t stand idly by with the cynic’s questions and doubt, but bring the seekers answers and hope. Merry Christmas, hope has come, even if you have lost hope this year, it can be found in God's interaction with mankind that is unlike any other period in history. Come and see what God has done, the greatest miracle has just begun.
Matthew J Diaz