Christmas is a lovely season. But amidst all of the extra seasonal stuff added on to our lives — parties and presents and other year-end tasks, it’s sometimes hard to grasp — or at least hold on to — the season’s deeper meanings. And, of course, even worse, there’s the comsumerist temptation to devolve to observing the holy days, as one of you pointedly phrased it, “buying a lot of crap we don’t need.”
No, I’m not suggesting the conservative Christian’s critique of our North American cultural Christmas that gets up in arms over Starbuck’s Holiday Cups. I am not worried we need to put the Christ back in Christmas. I think there is a lot of Christian faith in time spent with family and friends, and in the sharing of gift giving, and in wonder that surprises us right in the middle of our world’s shortest days and long nights.
Still, as the church, we want to try and help people wade through all the extra and the excess and find for themselves something simpler, the ways that Christmas itself (and not only through its trappings) blesses us. As pastor, I have 3 suggestions this year:
1) Living Advent and Christmas Calendar:
Last year, I used biblical quotes paired with simple reflectiona or activities to call us each day to consider for a moment the deepest meanings of the season.
This year, I will use the literary quotes that we have and will again be using outside to prompt our neighbors to reconsider the meanings of Christmas. I will again pair them with simple activities or reflections they seem to suggest to help us bring those meanings home to where we live and to our daily lives.
If you wish to receive the daily Living Advent and Christmas calendar, please let me know, so that I may add you to the mailing list. (You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know you wish to receive it electronically.)
I have recently read two very different pieces that I think could be helpful in keeping this holy season:
2. “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: the Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith.”
I recently bought this book for a friend who is haunted a bit too much by his conservative Christian upbringing. He’d like to get out from under the shadow that past throws on his life. But he also wonders if maybe there might not be some way to understand the faith that could add to his life. It had been awhile since I’d read it, so I am reareading it before I give it to him!
“In this small, but eoloquent book, Marcus Borg… directs his readers, especially those who have found no meaningful image of Jesus, away from confessed doctrines about Jesus (what the Gospel and the churches say about Him) and toward a relationship with God.”
In this season, where, at the least ligturgically, we say that we are to welcome Jesus into our lives as a newborn, meeting Jesus again for the first time is a goal full of hope. (You can order it online here.)
3. “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.”
Auden’s poem is remarkably long, about 1500 lines (Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is only 2100 lines long). It was written during World War II, The poet’s concern is not simply to speak of the Nativity events, but rather to draw out their incarnational impact upon the mundane world of the everyday. For Auden, Christmas is … an annual reminder that God has acted and is acting “to redeem from insignificance” the monotonous sludge of our everyday routines.
You might want to read the NYTimes religion writer Peter Steinfels’ reflection on it. The most famous lines from the poem, that I know from a favorite hymn in the Presbyterian Hymnal, go like this:
“He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.”
Two very different reads for the season, but either or both might greatly add to what your are experiences among the sounds and sights and rituals of one of the two holiest seasons of our faith. If you read them, let me know what you think…