Best Christmas Ever
It's hard to overstate just how embedded we are in our culture. At Christmas this is especially apparent. The season and its accoutrements seem to roll over us with the force of a tsunami. I find myself automatically singing songs (and even enjoying them) that my younger self rolled his eyes at.
As a Pastor’s child, I remember my sister and I being so bored singing carols by candlelight at one of Dad’s smaller ancillary churches that we were sliding under the pews on our bellies while my mother fought to yank us up and onto the seat, dust us off, and pull the flies out of my sister’s mouth (she’s not reading this so it’s ok). This is to say that we’re all tied up with Christmas like a giant ball of knotted exterior lights.
This is a bit of a two edged sword for us Christians because we are called to be in the world but not of the world. I mean Christmas is a Christian celebration that is both a holy season for us and at the same time extremely secular (half created by Coca-cola and Norman Rockwell). Can we trust the many messages Christmas prods us with? To add to this, God also "so loved the world" that he became human to save it (that’s the point of Christmas remember!). So we know this world and its culture has something valuable for us, while also being aware that we shouldn’t necessarily be shaped by the powers and influences that swirl around us.
One of my favourite verses in the bible is Matt 10:16, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves, therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." Being shrewd in this season may have to do with being able to deke out some of the marketing that Christmas throws at us in order to actually find the prize that God has for us in our human community. I mean, the marketing/messaging isn't just about toys and presents, it's also seeped into the scripts that we feel we have to play and the lines we feel we have to read. There is also the matter of custom. Is custom holding you hostage this Christmas? Do you feel like Clark Griswold before he reaches for the chainsaw?
At the heart of this whole season is the manger. Jolly old St. Francis (see what I did there), was keenly aware of the affluent, fancy, high faultin’ influences in the 13th Century church around Christmas, and so he proposed something radical – to return to the manger. In 1223, as a counter point to the expensive and oppressive Cathedrals of Europe, he urged worshipers to come to a manger in a cave, surrounded by live animals, to disrupt the pageantry of high church and to help Christians get over prideful ways (Bonaventure’s The Life of St. Francis). He saw something simple and humble in the manger. The truth is our God was a barn dwelling homeless man at his birth, who would grow up to be on the wrong side of the law (or so they thought), and who said irreverent punkish statements to prickly authorities. It turns out that by sliding around on my belly on a small country church floor I may have been closer to our Lord than a finely dressed gentleman.
I want to leave you with a moment from one of my favourite Christmases. It has been a slight challenge having families 2000 km apart from each other during the holiday. So one Christmas we decided to celebrate with my family on the 22nd, when my sister could be there as well. We hustled and bustled to get everything together and had a joyous occasion on the 22nd. But the true gift was the peace we felt on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th, while we watched everyone else pull their hair out trying to meet deadlines and get stuff done. It may have been my best Christmas ever.
God shifts the paradigms we view him by once in a while. He can pull the strangest memories to the surface and create new meaning out of any old cultural scrap. Pray with me that God will delightfully surprise us this Christmas by shifting the narrative, the scrips, the events, in a way that we don’t expect, but that meets our deepest needs.
Song – I’ve been listening to Brandon Lake’s “Gratitude” lately (was included in The Chosen Christmas Special 2021), which I think should be listened to as a response to Jeff Buckley’s haunting cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Written by Andrew Atkinson