It’s the Christmas season. Twenty-four days of misery and suffering. Yippee.
Jingle-bells and toy soldiers and Santa Claus. Wreaths and holly-bushes and freaking Christmas TV specials. Special Christmas sales and doorbuster bargains and reindeer. I despise it all.
Geez, you’re probably saying, what’s this guy’s problem? Well, allow me to explain.
To be precise, I don’t dislike Christmas. As a Christian, Christmas is terribly important to me. But it’s because it’s important that I get enraged at how our culture handles this season. And then there’s my fellow Christians…
To put it succinctly, American culture twists Christmas to an unrecognizable monstrosity. What follows is an explanation of how and why. If strong language offends you, turn back now.
The dominant culture of America, whatever myths it tells itself about itself, whatever positive aspects it does have, is cynical, materialistic, secular, and mammon-worshiping. As such, it takes an important moment in the Christian calendar and turns it into an opportunity to sell stuff, something, frankly, it does with almost everything else in our society (think about it for a moment). Seeing this, I’m not that surprised when the mainstream media follows every up and down of the Christmas selling season with obsessive, panting interest. It doesn’t surprise me when the true message of Christmas gets buried under news of how many Playstations and LED TVs have been sold this week.
I do get enraged over the fake sentimentality and cosmetic tinsel our culture shellacs over its commercialism. It’s a horrifying, sickening white-wash of fake good-will and boisterous cheer, with candy-canes and elves and Christmas trees. Our culture vomits out this bilge to try and pretty up and disguise the naked avarice of its un-Christian Christmas. The true gospel message gets lost under layer upon layer of this tacky garbage.
What really, really pushes me over the edge, though, is how many Christians buy into this trash and seem to not realize how anti-Christ secular Christmas celebrations are. Sometimes it seems that Christians are the people most in need of reminding of the true meaning of Christmas.
Here it is– Christmas is nothing more or less than the first act of Christ’s Passion.
The necessary first act. Do we really not remember this? Do we really forget the implications of the Biblical narratives of Jesus’ birth?
The world, then and now, is broken, foul, ruined. God’s intended order of love, peace and companionship with humanity has been lost in the sins and selfish willfulness of men and women, who try to set themselves up as petty gods, whose own happiness and comfort is the axle around which the universe should spin. The result is sickness, brokeness, wars, slavery, exploitation, racism, genocide, poverty and tyranny. The whole sorry business deserves to be shoved straight into Hell, wiped clean.
Instead, God gave us Christmas.
Pause and think about what this means. God, the creator of all that was, is, and ever will be, in a stupefying act of grace, stepped down into the everyday world of mortal life, not to hang out or to lead some sort of social revolution, but to restore a broken relationship with humanity, by means of an act of sacrifice no one else could do. We see stories in the news all the time about parents, mothers and fathers, sacrificing themselves to save their children. How much more, then, would God, whose love is deeper than human imagination can picture, be willing to sacrifice himself to save a whole race of children who have lost their way? He was willing to step down and across the gulf between his divine infinity and human finiteness, to become mortal, to live and work and eat and sleep, and then, after such a short time as a man, to turn around and go willing to a horrible death for those same broken, lost people– the very ones nailing Him to a cross. When you think about what God started at Christmas, it stuns you and takes your breath away. It should drive you to your knees, every time. If it were not the Lord Almighty we were talking about, you’d almost say that this was the act of a desperate God.
That’s why Christmas is so important– and why its perversion by the dominant culture is so horrifying.
Now, nothing I’ve just said is original with me, except possibly the vehemence with which I express my opinion. You can find all these criticisms in C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and even Charles Schulz’ Peanuts, for Pete’s sake. They do seem to need to be repeated at intervals, though. Even as Christians talk about “the reason for the season”, we tend to get wrapped up in the busyness of the season and start to act like everyone else for whom Christmas means presents, eggnog, and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.
I say “we tend” because I need to stop at this point and accuse myself of hypocrisy. I like finding a gift beneath a Christmas tree on Christmas morning as much as anyone. I love stocking stuffers, especially chocolate oranges. And we are deploying our Christmas tree even as I type this. We are all compromised by our inevitable involvement in an economic system that actually depends every year on the Christmas season to put it into the black. And all the caroling and trees and extra chocolate and lights are, frankly, seductive and fun. Of course, so is adultery.
So, in the end, what’s the point of my ranting and raving? Speaking to my fellow Christians, here’s what I am trying to say– no, you can’t get away from secular Christmas crap, not completely. I firmly believe, though, that we are still called to remind the dominant culture that there is a different way, a better way, a truly counter-cultural way, to live and be. And insisting on the true meaning of Christmas– the incarnation on the way to Golgotha, and the empty tomb– is necessary to that call.
Even if it sometimes means that people think you’re a Scrooge and look at you funny in the checkout line at Target.
That’s all I have to say.