I suppose I am in a more jovial holiday mode than I normally am this year. Things that would have annoyed me greatly in the past don’t seem to be phasing me.
Antlers for cats? Cute!
Endless Carols? How jolly!
Christmas Sweaters? How adorably retro!
Even the press of shoppers that normally sends my nerves into a frayed and frenzied state seems to be having little effect. I am just in the mood for Christmas, I suppose. I think, maybe though, I may just be in the mood for something unironic and unimpeded by our desire to qualify.
It is easy to bemoan the state of Christmas. Fox News built an empire on the War on Christmas. Now the progressive Christian community seems to be taking equal delight in punching back about a War on Advent. The really frustrating thing about all of this is its utter frivolousness.
Can we please not drag the mystery of the Incarnation through a partisan mud pit? Can we please not treat the condescension of God With Us as one more chew toy in a cultural tug of war?
I suppose that’s beside the point – but not really. Many seem wrapped up in using the holidays for their own devices.
Prove I love people? Check. Prove I know the Reason for the Season? Check. Prove I am no sucker for the mass marketing of a savage and wasteful consumer culture? Check. Here we have the hope of the nations being reduced to either a political football or a tool for self-expression.
I too would love for every person to be at Mass on Christ Mass day. It won’t happen. So I’m settling for the next best thing, which has already happened, Christ among us in the love expressed for one another. Every good and perfect gift is from the Father in Heaven. Each gift we offer one another in its simplicity, in its flaws, or in its intention expresses something of the Holy One – because it expresses something of the desire to show love and to be loved in return.
So for those who are complaining about Christ being taken out of Christmas – if you do not plan to be at Mass on Christ-Mass Day, then you’ve got no leg to stand on. You have taken the meaning out of the day’s name.
For those angered by the mass consumption of the holidays – every holiday, celebration, or event is an expression of the culture it finds itself in. Enculturation, sadly, does not just mean expressions of cheer we find charming or palatable. For better or worse, we live in a consumer culture with all of the dangers and the benefits that imparts. Christmas, the Incarnation, occurs within culture – this culture – and every culture. This means that even as all things are brought to their perfection, our attempt to honor that greatest gift given to us will be flawed in some way, marked by the incomplete grasp any culture has on expressing its longings and hope.
I am in the mood for Christmas this year.
The temptation is often toward maudlin and well-trod paths of noting how sad the holidays are for some or for ironic detachment that proves something of our sense of self.
I realize all of the myriad and complex ways we can encounter the Christmas season. I remember postponing Christmas when I was a kid because we could not afford gifts in December. I remember lost loved ones and Christmases marred by family squabbles and disputes and loss. So we see Blue Christmas services and the like that acknowledge the grief many find welling up during the holidays.
It is right and holy to make space for those complicated memories. But it is even more fitting that we situate all of those very human tragedies and shortfalls within the scope of that which we are celebrating – nothing less than the divine taking on those same human trials. This is not the stuff of forced cheer, false smiles, or ironic distance – this is the full engagement of divinity with humanity.
The dangerous thing about ironic detachment is that it is the exact opposite of Christ’s engagement with us. It creates distance when Christ would draw us closer. It builds up barriers where Christ would break them down. It makes the holidays an intellectual exercise of competitive disinterest yet Christ takes on the fullness of our nature and offers all that he has without reserve or stint in service to the Father.
We are followers of Christ – ones who dwell in the life and rising of the Incarnate Word. We are meant to celebrate, to embrace, to hold fast to this wonderful and sacred mystery. So let’s enter Christmas not grudgingly, or half-heartedly, or with resignation, or with ironic detachment, or with partisan agendas, but with the fullness of all the thanks our hearts, souls, and minds can offer.