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Christmas and Christ: Coming or Going?

Will Christmas come to you this year, or will you be running into it? Do you remember that phrase, "What would Jesus do?" This is a good time to ask that question.

Think back to what we call the First Century CE. Not one electric light blinked for even a moment in a land where gnarled olive trees granted fruit and oil, but little shade, where crops were planted and harvested--harvested, if there was enough moisture--by hand. A journey of 10 miles could take a few days.

What surrounded Jesus was poverty--poverty that damaged those who suffered from it. The very word, poverty, makes me wince. Until. Until I see television commercials for luxury cars, power tools, techno-toys, and diamonds. Until I see countless strings of lights wrapped around trees, roofs, and storefronts. Until I see ads in church bulletins asking for people to "play" wise men, shepherds, and angels. Yes, even that tradition keeps us from knowing the poverty that can free us from the commercialism and lifestyle that many Americans suffer.

Needing poverty

The business of Christmas has cost us a great deal. The elegance and simplicity of the wise men's valuable, meaningful, and natural gifts have been lost. In an economic crisis, all-night lights reveal who has money to pay the electricity bills they incur. As beautiful and creative as the displays of lights are, they block our view of the stars. The wise men did not follow thousands of decorative, man-made lights. Their path held true to one star. And, no matter how moving a Christmas "pageant" might be, a kind of falsehood is inherent in its performance. Unless we experience the mystery and unknowing that real birth and life bring, until we lose the scripts (Biblical and otherwise), these are mini-melodramas acted out in colorful bathrobes--in the comfort of a heated or cooled building or nearby such a building. No one bleeds. Pain is not part of the story. The sacred babies don't cry. And the animals in the stable don't stink. Too often, the Christmas message is killed by cuteness as we work to make this wild story fit into our 21st-century lives.

I, of course, do not know and cannot say with any certainty what Jesus would do should he appear in person at a 21st-century North American Christmas event, service, or sale. I do think about it, though.

I think it's likely that the money-changers would not fare so well, and retail statistics would be meaningless to him. I think he might hold an iPhone and smile, perhaps even say, "Render unto Apple...". I imagine he would enjoy the lights, but after looking at them for a few minutes would ask: "Don't you miss the stars?" And: "Could burning fewer lights make more money available to feed the hungry?" I wonder what he would think of the settings in which many of us were born? Among total strangers in a sterilized hospital operating room? I think he might ask us to perform one less Christmas "play," because these can turn his life into object and memory rather than living, dynamic reality. He might say, "But I am one of you with you. This is a story we share and live together. You cannot act it--unless you enter it, full-time."

Celebration of exploration

I don't mean to suggest not celebrating. I do mean to suggest celebrating Christmas with freedom. Freedom from burdensome expense, stress, intense fatigue, busy-ness, and mindlessness. Freedom from the societal shackles that even some of the most devoted Christians have fastened onto this holiday time without even knowing how weighted down this season of their lives has become.

I am suggesting that we impoverish our Christmas customs until we recover the original freedom of soul taught to us by Christ, a "poor" man who came to restore that freedom to our selves, hearts, and minds. Let's stop running: to sales and stores, to food-laden parties, and to events more cute than contemplative. Let's explore emptiness, open our hearts, and watch in wonder as Christ uses Christmas to enter our lives.

Text and first image, Copyright 2010, Ysabel de la Rosa, All rights reserved.


Jeff Damron said…
A wonderful essay from a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
Thank you so much, Jeff.
Anonymous said…
You nailed it! Well said, and you write beautifully.

I will admit that I think pageants can be worthwhile for visual folks, but it is sad that they so seldom ever reach out to any other sense. What would it mean to us if we included the sense of smell in Luke's version of the story? Matthew's version, would be more sterile since apparently Jesus is born in a house and not a stable!

I think pageants could be better if we would be willing to focus only on one story per year. Sadly, we bastardize each individual story by combining the two, losing the punch of each.

I believe Luke's point is God's solidarity with the poor; God raises them up while bringing down the rich and powerful.

Matthew's point is that we need to drop traditions that are no longer necessary. Interestingly, the ones who get it (the magi) are the ones who, by tradition, would not get it since they are not "chosen."

Both of these images, when viewed separately, tie in nicely with your post!

As an aside (and I know this is my own personal problem), it would be nice if live nativity characters would not be "stuck" in the corner of the Sanctuary so as not to get in the way of choirs and music. In my opinion, it'd be better not to have them at all.

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