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Christmas Is All Right

Silly me, here I am a Lutheran pastor, and I hadn’t realized that the liberals had stolen Christmas from the Christians!

Now that’s pretty dense of me, isn’t it?

I mean, I’ve been waltzing cluelessly through the last few weeks thinking if I had to hear one more schmaltzy version of “The Little Drummer Boy” or “O Holy Night,” I’d go nuts. Or Paul McCartney’s “Sim-ply Hav-ing a Wonderful-Christmas-Time.” Or Kenny G sounding all dewy and Sensitive—capital “S” essential. Or, God help us:

Grandma got run over by a reindeer

Driving back from our house Christmas Eve.

You can say there’s no such thing as Santa

But as for me and Grandpa we believe

I’ve been wondering why I haven’t heard Adam Sandler and the Hanukkah song—the original one where he says “so put on your yarmulke and smoke your marijuanica,” which is sadly missing from his second version.

And the other day I heard a song by some earnest-sounding girl assuring us that God blesses the USA at Christmas.

Well, good. Because if I believed in a God of retribution, I’d be pretty worried about the rest of the year.

Anyway, I had been going along, wondering why it seemed that this year in particular so many radio stations seemed to have gone to “All-Christmas, All-the-Time” when I heard the news: Christians were being oppressed. The godless, liberal left had stolen Christ and wouldn’t tell the Christian nation where to find him.

Oh, dear, I thought, this isn’t good news at all. You don’t want an empty manger in the town square crèche.

And on top of that, I hadn’t even noticed this hoodwinking that had been going on.

For example, the Plano, Texas, school district apparently has a ban against red and green decorations. And the White House—um—Christmas card, says, “Best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness.”

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry. You’d better not pout, I’m telling you why.

I had been vaguely aware of the whole Wal-Mart flapdoodle over saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” And when I saw a fire department sign today that said “Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas” it finally dawned on me that this was an offering of good will designed to show that we really needn’t quarrel over this.

But see—and forgive me if I’m slow—these Christians so convinced Christmas has been hoodwinked have apparently forgotten that it is not Christmas.

It’s not Christmas.

Not yet.

All those Christians indignant about taking note of other holidays appear to have forgotten not simply a holiday, but an entire season of their own. If we want to go all sectarian about these weeks of December, it’s Advent, for crying out loud, not Christmas. Advent right straight up until sundown on Dec. 24.

Advent used to be considered a “closed season” in the church year. You couldn’t get married during Advent. You couldn’t get your baby baptized. That’s because these are bright, festive events and Advent, like Lent, was supposed to be a period of internal meditation and reflection.

Christians up in arms because Target doesn’t use the word Christmas in their advertising seem to have forgotten that whining and finger-pointing are not consistent with the spirit of internal self-examination that characterizes Advent.

But whatever. Because when it comes right down to it, this is not a battle I want to fight—the Christian versus Christian battle.

To do that violates my own sense of what this time of year—these weeks of deep, cold darkness—are supposed to be like.

They’re not about drawing lines demarcating “us” from “them.” Instead, these weeks level us: We are all cold, we are all in the same darkness. We are all trying to find the light that gives us cause for celebration.

So some of the most mundane or clichéd things we do during these weeks strike me as nearly holy activity.

I think of parties as a holy activity. Maybe not the de rigueur office bash, but the small ones given by friends where people who rarely get a chance to talk gather in a circle of light in someone’s house and eat and drink and share the warmth of goodwill—goodwill that is lacking so much of the time in our lives.

I think of picking out presents and wrapping gifts as holy activities. Someone has thought about what thing, what tangible something-or-other will delight your senses. Then they have taken the time to fold and cut and tape and tie so that the pleasure of the present is hidden within the joy of bright papers and shining ribbons.

Writing holiday cards—and receiving them—is, for me, holy activity. Yeah, I know, there are those annual letters and you always get a few cards from people you know don’t really like you. And I know it can be a real pain in the neck, in the midst of all the other stuff you have to do to write out the cards. Which is why it means so much when you do it.

And as much as pastors joke about the C & E-ers—the Christmas and Easter tourists who make their biannual stops in at their local congregation for the pretty services—I love to see the candlelit sanctuary of the church I serve brimming with people on Christmas Eve. They have left their homes and come out into the dark, cold night not out of any sense of dogmatic belief but because there is something irrationally compelling about the idea that in the dead, cold darkness, some bright, divine presence is promised.

And indeed, it is there, that bright, divine presence. Not in the crèche; the crèche is only pretend, after all. But the light in each others’ eyes is real. And the candles we hold in our hands gleam. Darkness is broken. All we can ever know—maybe it’s all we really need to know—about God is right there in each other’s shining eyes.

—Jo Page

Jopage@graceniska.org

 


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