Monday, December 16, 2013

Give Me a Christmas Trimmed to the Basics

As I get older Christmas changes.

For one thing, the cheeriness of the season seems to get more and more lost in the annoyance of the shopping frenzy. Every year brings a new disgrace from the conduct of those shoppers who turn Christmas into a battle zone of mall derangement. And there’s Black Friday. And retail stores with 18 hour schedules. And sale’s wars. These things make Christmas preposterous.

Why not make it a rule that everyone gets $100 of Christmas shopping money per year and no more. And nothing goes on sale. No bargain bins or price cuts. Everything stays the same as always. The stores all keep their usual hours. People might then decide to only get one nice gift for someone and then perhaps make the rest of their gifts. People might actually think about what gift or gifts they give. People might even get creative and shop in remote little places where there are items no one has and people have not endlessly handled. People might stay home more and enjoy the pre Christmas days with family and not be frazzled and angry from traffic snarls and congested malls and huffy shoppers. There’s nothing to say we couldn’t all try it.

The whole religious message seems to change for me as well. I passed a mega church the other evening. In their entryway there was a giant Christmas tree bright with lights and decorations. It was pretty, lovely really. But is that the Christmas message of the church?

Advent is celebrated by most Christian churches during Christmas. A candle is lighted on the four Sundays before Christmas in anticipation of the birth of Christ. It is to be a time of reflection, confession, and waiting. These are experiences hard to come by in our modern Christmas gyrations.

When I was in the church I always thought if we truly saw the Christ Child as the coming of love into the world to help show us what love is really like and how to behave as loving people then Advent and Christmas would be beautiful. And they would be powerful reminders of how life is to be lived in all seasons of life.

The original Christmas setting as described in the New Testament is filled with humility, barrenness, hard circumstances, endurance, commitment, devotion and love. We seem to be forever missing this central message year after passing year.

In his book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, British novelist Philip Pullman writes, “Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; and that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow, 'Get out, you don't belong here?' Does the tree say to the hungry man, 'This fruit is not for you?' Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?” 

What a concept for the Christian Church, especially in this season when it celebrates the coming of one surrounded in poverty and need but also in wonder and love.

In the delightful Christmas movie, Polar Express, the boy who wants to believe in Santa has in his sleep a wonderful and revealing adventure on a magical train. At one point he is visited by a hobo who says, “What exactly is…is your persuasion on the Big Man, since you brought him up?” The boy stammers and says, “Well I…I want to believe…but…” And the hobo says, “But you don’t want to be bamboozled. You don’t want to be led down the primrose path! You don’t want to be conned or duped. Have the wool pulled over your eyes. Hoodwinked! You don’t want to be taken for a ride! Railroaded! ...Am I right?” The boy stunned, wide-eyed and staring breathlessly, nods in the affirmative.

I don’t want that either. I don’t want it from the gross commercialization of this season from the bottom line retail industry. And I don’t want it from the religious community astray in its own materialism and confusing messages.

Give me a Christmas trimmed down to the basics; a Christmas where I feel the grace of something quiet and humble; where I am not jaded by cheap gaudiness and my own selfishness; but rather a Christmas where I am joyous in acts of compassionate generosity; where I am astonished by uncluttered beauty; and where I bow in reverence to love’s essentialness, transparency, exuberance and invincibility.

© 2013 Timothy Moody

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