Tuesday, December 15, 2015

And So This Is Christmas

And so this is Christmas,
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun . . .

 This song, much like this season fills me with conflicting emotions.  

It's Christmas time.


Christmas comes but once a year,
And when it does, 
It brings good cheer. 

Or massive amounts of confusion, depression, materialism, alcoholism and all around humbug.

It's not that I'm against Christmas.  I love the holiday season!  (as defined by Starbucks as beginning in September with Pumpkin Spice Latte and ending in January with the Gingerbread Macchiato)  

It's just that I suffer from Christmas Identity Confusion.

It's a thing.

And I know I'm not alone out there.

So, what is Christmas, exactly and how do I, as a Christ follower observe the day in a way that glorifies Jesus without going insane?  Insanely in debt.  Insanely exhausted.  Insanely guilty.

 What I am going to say next might shock you.  Unless you are my sibling or grew up with me, in which case, you know exactly what I mean.

My family did not celebrate Christmas.

Not until I was seven, and then it was sparingly.  Yet, my dad loved Christmas!  He missed Christmas.  But it was a point of conscience to not dishonor Christ by celebrating His birth in a way that was un-godly.  This had many roots and evolved through many different stages as our family grew.  That confused me.  But behind it all was the same desire, to glorify Christ.  This has anchored me.

So, what is so bad about Christmas?  There are a lot of scholarly tracts and articles and blog posts out there.  This is not one of them.  This is just me recounting what I was taught as a kid.  And citing hasty Google searches.  Take it for what it's worth.

 * To begin with, you might be shocked to learn December 25th is not actually Jesus' Birthday.  Well, it could have been.  We really don't know for sure when he was born.  Some algorithms place his birth sometime in the Spring, others have finagled a way to reconcile with the traditional December date.  Do you want to know my view?  There is a 1/365  chance that December 25 was the exact Christmas morn, a 1/12 chance that it was in the month of December and a 1/4 chance that it was a wintry cold Silent Night.  In other words, the date does not matter.  What does matter?  That "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,  To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." Galatians 4:4-5   

It is an absolutely 100% certainty that Jesus was born!  At just the right time, in just the right way to fulfill all the prophecies made in the Old Testament.  Here is a wonderful article about some of these ancient prophecies come true.  This truly is cause to celebrate!

* Or is it?  Have you ever read the 11th Commandment that tells us to Deck the Halls or Celebrate Me Home or even sing light a birthday candle on you-know-what day?  No?  Perhaps this is why the actual date is never recorded.  Maybe having special feast days was a custom from the Old Testament that God intended to phase out?  (see Galatians 4:9-11 and Colossians 2:16-22 which seems to me to be speaking of Jews looking down on the Gentiles that did not follow the dietary restrictions and observe Levitical feast days)  

The only days that are mentioned for special consideration in the New Testament are the Lord's Day and the observance of the Lord's Supper.  Lord's Supper, is held in solemn remembrance of Christ's death and atonement.  It is to be observed "often" but left to the individual church's discretion.  Christ's resurrection is celebrated the first day of every week.  Although Easter is mentioned in Acts 12:4, it was not in the context of a church sanctioned celebration.  Rather it was giving a time reference for when Peter was to be executed.  This was the season of Passover, which is also around the same time of the celebration of Ishtar, a pagan goddess.  Yes, the etymology of "Easter" traces back to the Babylon goddess of war, love, and fertility.  Hence the fecundal symbols made of marshmallows every spring.              

* Which brings us back to That Day, 12/25.  Why is Christmas held on that day or thereabouts, depending on where in the world you live?  Most people already know that Constantine started that tradition along with many other Roman Catholic traditions.  Depending on where you attend church, that could be a good thing or a bad thing, but that's another story.  Before Constantine became a Christian, he was a pagan.  The Pagans had all sorts of celebrations throughout the year that have become incorporated into the Catholic church and hence modern society.  That in itself is not the kiss of death.  I don't refuse to use the name March because it came from the god Mars or Wednesday because it was originally Woden's Day.  But, it is useful to know where these customs come from.  It definitely made my dad blanch at the thought of having a pagan Yule Tree decorated in our home.  We did sneak out on Christmas Light viewing excursions with dad, egg nog in hand.  BUT!  We didn't call them "Christmas Lights" you see.  They were simply known as Pretty Lights.  Which was definitely a step better than calling them Pagan Lights.

* This brings us to the rank consumerism, materialism and downright greed that has grinched the Holy-Day spirit.  Songs such as Santa Baby, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer and Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart (But The Very Next Day You Gave It Away)  shine a black light over the once peaceful Silver Bells scene.  Things become grotesque and distorted with the never ending obligations and expectations we are expected to fill.  I feel this rather painfully in Cindy-Lou Who's poignant song "Where Are You, Christmas" and in Charlie Brown's search for his lost Christmas Spirit.  The traffic, the crowds, the crushing weight of making the season perfect for everyone, it's like winding up thirty music boxes at once and letting the cacophony seep into your very soul.  And that's just in the Sock Department at Walmart.   

It's no wonder people get depressed this time of year.  When you remove Christ from society, but leave the obligation of being merry, there just isn't much hope.  Santa is a poor savior.  He might reward good behavior with good presents if your parents are rich enough to afford your alphabetized and cross-referenced list.  But even the most magnificent of gifts eventually lose their luster.  You can't buy happiness.  

O come, O come, Emmanuel, 
And rescue captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Here is where the true Gift comes in.  I think this is the place my dad came to in his search for the Christ-like spirit of Christmas.  Jesus is so much bigger than a day.  The entire season from Thanksgiving to New Year's is not enough time to fully appreciate the Incarnation of Emmanuel.  God With Us.  Peace On Earth, not to men of goodwill, for there are none.  But God's good will to undeserving men!  We need to spread this word of hope every single day of the year.  But, people are  more likely to listen when it's Christmas "time".  Co-workers, friends and neighbors, family members will accept gifts, engage in conversations and
sing gloriously truthful words THIS MONTH!  This is truly a Holiday of Opportunity.  Who knows, you might even get to invite someone to church.  And better yet, they might actually come!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav'n and nature sing.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove 
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it.  He has created all things for Himself.  This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad in it!  There is no need to let the worldly misrepresentations of Christ and His birth rob us of joy for three months out of the year.  Let's face it, we all know someone who starts decorating in October.  It used to bother me that people roll right over Thanksgiving in their haste to get Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree . . . 

* Until I found my personal reconciliation.  Now, this is just me.  I don't expect anyone else in the world to see things the way I do.  Here's how it started: 
Robert and I began giving gifts to our family on Thanksgiving.  It should have worked like a dream.  Except it didn't.  It was horribly awkward.  Our families were surprised and unprepared and slightly embarrassed.  Then on Christmas Day, it was our turn to feel surprised and unprepared and slightly embarrassed as our family sheepishly gave us gifts.  That's when it hit me.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are really one season.   
And, that's a good thing.  A couple of days is just not near enough time to give thanks to God and express appreciation to the folks I love.  We're going to need several months!  

Also, there is something very important that I have learned about loving others.  You have to love them in a way that they can receive.  Gifts at Thanksgiving is weird.  Gifts at Christmas is warm and cozy.  That was my second revelation.  There is a certain magical something in the air all December long.  Houses and storefronts are spruced up with, well, Spruce Trees.  Everything is glittery, even the air sparkles.  Children and parents fairly crackle with anticipation.  Of gifts?  Yes, but there's something more.  It's not just the gifts.  It's the wacky family traditions.  It's going to a certain park to see lights.  It's baking cookies.  It's having friends over to sing and reminisce.  It's feeling loved and thankful.  It's looking back on the mercies of the past year and looking forward to the certain grace that will supply the future.

For lo, the days are hast'ning on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

     As I grew up, our Holiday traditions grew with us.  From a pinata at my Grandma's to drawing the names of siblings to the rollicking Dirty Santa gags, every year became a little more festive.  The first several years of officially "celebrating" Christmas, our only decorations was the ceramic village that we painted with dad while listening to Handel's Messiah.  How we treasure that village now!  Then dad allowed small touches of pagan greenery about the house with a few Precious Moments ornaments interspersed.  But, we weren't ever going to have a tree.  Lights on the house was another matter entirely!  One of my favorite memories of dad was of him, all tangled up in lights, on the roof, in the dark.  The lights would blink on, revealing the epic struggle, then blink off, leaving us kids on the ground holding our breath.  Then blink on again.  Then off.  It's a marvel he ever got them untangled and found the one burned out bulb!  

The older I grew, the sicker dad became.  My brother took over hanging the lights.  One year, after I was married, I was astonished to find a fully decked tree in the living room.  Well, how do you like that?  The night my dad passed away, there was a small tree in his hospital room, furnished by one of my aunts.  That was an interminably long and silent night for all of us.  

It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, good will to men, From heav'ns all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay To hear the angels sing.

Still thru the cloven skies they come With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav'nly music floats O'er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains They bend on hov'ring wings
And ever o'er its Babel sounds The blessed angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load, Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road,  And hear the angels sing.   

That December night, my dad heard those angels sing.  He met his long expected Jesus.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave.

Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel 

Life and Death.  Endings and Beginnings.  Friends and Family.  This is the Holiday season for me.  From October to January.  Pumpkin Spice Latte to Gingerbread Macchiato.  Halloween to New Year's.  Every day belongs to God.  There is a time and a season to every purpose.  The particulars are different to every family, but I would urge you to enjoy your God and enjoy your family with every fiber of your being!  However you feel led to celebrate this season, let it be with your heart and soul.

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike.  Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it . . . For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.   

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.  Romans 14:5-8

I don't do Christmas cards. It's a pagan tradition.  No, just kidding!  I just haven't made it a part of my personal tradition.  I much prefer to bake pumpkin bread for every person I know.  Except I haven't managed to get that done for several years.  Maybe next year though . . . What I'm trying to say is:
 Merry Christmas!
 Happy New Year!
Thankful Thanksgiving!

I pray you and your family are blessed.