An essay for the holidaysWritten by Eric McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I was asked to write an essay about Christmas. This is a broad topic. I could go several ways. I could write a devotional piece but that feels a little too “religiousy” for a public and secular publication like Toledo Free Press. I don’t want to overstay my welcome.
I could go on and on about all the hullabaloo over the so-called conspiracy to take Christ out of Christmas. But there are two things about this manufactured issue. When an argument lacks substance, the late dean of my seminary used to say, “There is no there, there.” Just because some choose to wish folks “Happy Holidays” instead of saying “Merry Christmas” doesn’t mean we are on the threshold of purging the baby Jesus from our society. Granted we are more “secular” today, but in time, the baby Jesus has proven to be a durable soul. I am certain that he will find his way. Besides, I am bored with this conversation.
Then there is the annual debate about the commercialization of Christmas. This debate bores me too. I find it somewhat disingenuous. If we are that offended by all the commercialization, then don’t participate in it. Don’t mob the stores and don’t let the marketplace set your schedule. Christmas is 12 days long. In the early church, Epiphany (Jan. 6, the celebration of the coming of the Magi) was the day gifts were shared. Just think of the bargains you will find if you wait until after Dec. 25 to start your Christmas shopping! Don’t fixate on the plasticity of it all. Limit the singing of Christmas carols until Dec. 24. Sing some good Advent carols instead. I particularly love the French Advent carol “People Look East.” If you really want to “stick it” to the marketplace, instead of buying gifts for your loved ones, make a donation in their name to your favorite charity or ministry. The marketplace does what it does. It doesn’t mean we all have to follow it like sheep ready to be shorn.
Since the middle of the fourth century, Christians have been challenged to prepare for the “Festival of the Nativity” or “Christmas” by immersing themselves in one of the two penitential seasons of the church year. This season is called Advent. It begins four Sundays before Christmas. It ends in candlelight on Christmas Eve. Advent, and the other penitential season, Lent, challenge believers to confess and own the full measure of their humanity. During Lent, the focus is on the nasty things we do to others, our creation and our Creator.
The flavoring of Advent is a little different. During this season the believer is challenged to own the ways he/she has been hurt by others, by creation and by the odd and capricious collections of events that happen that empty the human soul of spirit and meaning. It is not an easy thing to own the desert places of the soul. Many in our culture tend to look down on this encouraging us to move on and get a life. But the emptiness of the soul is a persistent thing. One can only move on so long before the grief, the sadness, the “whatever” that works to empty the soul of hope and joy reasserts itself. For Christians, the 12 days of Christmas is the celebration of a holy mystery, a divine and holy response to a vexing human reality. This response or gift may never fully remove from us the emptiness we are prone to experience from time to time. But it gives us a power to negotiate with it, a way to place boundaries around it and a vision of a much longer view of the reality we are invited to live. To quote Martha Stewart, “This is a good thing.” Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays.
Eric McGlade is a United Methodist pastor in Bowling Green.