Holiday Values Part 5

"Well, brother Matt, you sure have put a wrinkle in my stocking with all these Christmas posts-- extolling the Grinch and leaving poor plastic Nativity camels to fend for themselves and the like-- but you've been a little evasive on what you really think about the whole season..."

True enough, I've held back some cards for here on Christmas eve when visions of sugar plums are dancing through your head--wait, what's a sugar plum and when's the last time anyone's had one? I have visions of many delicious holiday foods and perhaps have danced a little jig myself in anticipation, but I can't remember a time when the sugar plum dance crew broke it down in my mind.
It's funny how many things surrounding Christmas time are slightly odd...

We cut down trees, place them in our homes and put lights on them. Or we get a plastic tree out of our garage and assemble it.

We hang over-sized socks from our mantels. And use the myth of an obese man in pimp clothes invading our homes as a deterrent to naughty behavior.

And how about those weird Christmas lyrics?

When's the last time you roasted chestnuts? Or brought corn over to someone's house "for popping"?
Have you ever staged a protest at a holiday party that you weren't going to leave until you got some figgy pudding? And everyone pretends their Snowman is Frosty--I don't know who this upstart Parson Brown is.

I'd love to deck your hall but I'm all out of holly. I dropped it and ran when I say saw eight maids a milkin' and ten lords a leapin'.

Many of our traditions and songs come from a different era with different cultural icons attached to the Christmas holiday (back to this in a moment)

Much of the talk I hear during this season is about making sure we remember the true meaning of Christmas, and by the way it is said, it indicates that anything that isn't about baby Jesus in a manger is not the true meaning of Christmas: the "everything else" of Christmas is "in the way".

What if the other stuff doesn't have to be "in the way"? What if the figgy pudding, wrapping paper, and awkwardly placed mistletoe can be a part of the "true meaning" of Christmas?

Some words from the esteemed Englishman Clive Staples Lewis:
There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.' This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.

Lewis makes the case we can find the spiritual in the festal, if we put the spiritual first, but if we do not put it first: everything takes on a withering (and I would say cynical and hopeless) life.

When we live under the gracious and loving rule of Jesus as Lord, we are living in the Kingdom of God and as we do that, we can, if we allow ourselves to respond this way, find the beauty and goodness in things and persons all around us.

We can delight in well-wrapped gifts and perfectly baked snickerdoodles and the squealing laughter of children when they unwrap the gift you said was too expensive. We can find grace and peace in the midst of squabbling relatives and too salty ham. The whole experience can be soaked with the presence of Immanuel, God with us, the God who immersed himself in our humanity.

When we live in response to the Spirit's rule, we begin to get our Garden of Eden eyes back and as we do, we can see the wonderful and worshipful all around us in this Creation in which we have been placed.

So back to our earlier thoughts on Christmas traditions: What do they mean to you?

Are gifts acts of love? Or signs that we have bowed down to the capitalist greed machine?

But, but, Matt did you know one time a tree symbolized this and that?

Does it now? My tree reminds me of all that is good in this season and all the nostalgic delight of what I experienced as a child.

People used to say "God bless you!" after you sneezed because they thought a demon had been expelled from the body! But it's not what it means now right?

Left-handed people were considered Devil's spawn at one point, but not so now.

We change meanings all the time by our motives and by the values we personally attach to things. And Christ the infant King is The Meaning Changer and the Value Bringer, The Gift Giver and the Grand Celebrator.

I don't even know what figgy pudding is but I have my own "figgy puddings" in which I can delight, and be like the small boy shaking those chocolate eggs, because I follow Jesus Risen.

Christians, we are the Feast-ers! The Extravagant lovers! The ones who can always find Jubilee in defiance of the darkness. The ones who can find Christ in the chocolate. Delight in the meaning of Christmas among you, because Immanuel has come and His coming that first Christmas signaled the inauguration of a Kingdom that will culminate in an eternal Wedding feast!

So drink up the egg nog to the glory of God! Wear that tacky sweater for the Kingdom! Carve up the roast beast! And sing whatever songs bring you joy--even if their original meanings escape you. In doing so, we echo the true meaning of Christmas, and reflect the glories of the King who is with us, for us, and in us.

Grace and Peace to you.

Matt O.