What will Christmas mean to you this year? In an age of militant secularism and consumerism, nauseating self-involvement, greed and sloth, will believers be able to “keep Christ in Christmas?” Will they even be able to keep “Christmas in Christmas” as the name and ideals of Jesus Christ are sanitized from our society by groups like the ACLU? By this, I speak of the recent edict in Colorado forbidding the trafficking of red and green lights.
As a young boy, Christmas was always a truly magical time for me. My beloved and late parents Anthony Sr. and Viola always went out of their way to make it special. There was a huge and very real tree decorated with unique ornaments, a plethora of lights both inside and outside the house, carrots for Santa’s reindeer, a viewing of the classic “Rudolph’s Christmas Special” and, of course, many presents – too many presents in fact. (This was before slave-labor goods imported from Asia meant that even poor children could receive lots of presents).
Often we even had a white Christmas on Long Island to top it all off. We lived a stone’s throw away from Fire Island on the Great South Bay, and our life was something out of a Normal Rockwell painting. There was ice skating on a frozen pond in the winter and baseball at the sandlot in the summer. We were rugged and our stomachs were like bricks. It wasn’t that long ago, but considering recent cultural changes it seems positively Edwardian. To wake up in the middle of the night and see that amazing Christmas tree next to the fireplace remains amongst my most sacred memories. Not because of all of the “stuff,” but rather because all the hard work my parents put into making my childhood perfect – this after they adopted me as a very sickly baby.
I remember singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus along with a candle in a Ring Ding cake each and every Christmas morning. My parents always tried to make Jesus Christ the focus. They taught their children that God is unchanging – still the God of Noah. That the God who spoke worlds into existence can also count every single hair on our heads, and knows when a single sparrow falls to the ground. My parents also taught us that our God is slow to anger, quick to forgive, keeps no record of wrongs and loves the peacemakers.
“There is more joy in heaven for one sinner who repents than for a thousand righteous,” my mother would often tell me. That was one of her touchstones. Moses killed an Egyptian soldier. David took Bathsheeba and killed off her husband. Saul held Stephen’s coat while poor Stephen became the first Christian martyr. Yet all of them became giants of the faith. To that end, my parents taught us that God stands ready to embrace anyone willing to turn away from evil and sin and retrace their steps in order to rediscover their true destiny. “As far as the east is from the west so too shall I remove your sins from you.”
That said, this year there’s no reason any of us can’t seek the Lord in all humility, like “The Little Drummer Boy.” Consider the main character in the films “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy.” The costs may be great, even incalculable, but in the end it will be worth it.
We all have free will, and thus we can choose to lay down our idols anytime we find enough strength to commit to that ideal. Of course “leaving the world behind,” the flesh and the pride of life is a very difficult and perhaps even a life-long process. How we handle Christmas is always a good barometer. If Egypt is a symbol of sin and the flesh and the world, and the pharaoh represents an archetype of Satan, then we must hold up our staff like Moses, reverse our wrong turn like Abraham, and take our medicine like Joseph, while seeking a new direction and focus.
Later in life, especially when my parents became ill, we abandoned our traditional Christmas tree and all the presents while seeking to concentrate on the manger and the message of Christ. We felt that Christmas was mainly for small children. The revolting consumerism had long before washed away the original message. This was a decision we all arrived at together. It wasn’t really a conscious thing. It was no big deal. We didn’t feel “better” than anyone else. We had all just simultaneously moved on to another level.
Perhaps we walked to that level. Perhaps my late parents were called to that level. Who can say for sure? No one is fit to judge. There are no right and wrong answers and no perfect timing to abide by. You have to feel it in your heart and your soul. It is there you will find your answers. You see, inner space is just as vast as outer space. Perhaps the Three Wise Men realized this during their trek. Yes, the star overhead was gleaming in outer space. But God was sending a baby to colonize inner space.
In that regard, let us ask exactly what is the Christmas spirit? Is it something that is purely spiritual? Is it material? Can the two mix? If so, then just how? And do we even have the courage to ask such questions in postmodern, post-Christian America?
Do we really want to know the answers when the baby in the manger we seek to honor grew up to tell a certain rich man; “Go and sell everything you own and come follow Me?”
However that man went away very sad, “… for he owned much.”
Still, Christmas offers us a chance to give to others, and this is something I love to do so much. If we truly seek to put others first, what could be wrong with that? The answer is simple – nothing. Don’t let others define, slander and depress you with a “materialistic” label simply for wanting to give to other people. There could be no better sentiment. As we have been told time and time again, there’s “no buying or selling in the kingdom of God, only giving and receiving.”
As previously noted, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life will always raise up their collective swords against us. (Sex, money, status.) Humans crave purpose and meaning in life, but in many instances not as much as we crave comfort. In the old Soviet Union, the material replaced the spiritual. Now the same thing is happening to the nations of the West which had formally and strongly opposed the ideals of Marx and Lenin during the Cold War (Ironically, there may have always been many more devoted Christians living in Mainland China and Russia than any of us ever realized). Our body is not our soul, and planet Earth is not our home. Whoever dies with the most toys is still dead.
Christmas of course means many different things to many different people. We know and accept that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday built around the worship of the sun god in Rome. Long before that, the Egyptians had their own winter solstice cult. Yet Christmas doesn’t have to be a pagan holiday for us. We don’t worship the sun or the tree. Notions that we do can sometimes be hysterical and counterproductive, if not meaningless. This isn’t a case of Halloween vs. All Souls Day. Yes we’re “in the world,” but we don’t have to be “of the world.”
That said, in avoiding the way of the Three Monkeys, we must accept the harsh reality that Christmas is a hard time for millions of people, thus the record number of suicides around the silly season.
We must also accept that many of the toys we buy are stained with the blood, sweat and tears of tortured Christians working in the slave labor laogai gulags in Mainland China. (This writer had the honor several years ago of speaking with the great human rights dissident Harry Wu about organizing a Christmas boycott of China-made toys).
In the end, Christmas 2007 will be exactly what you make of it. You can give and give and give some more. You can cook your favorite foods. You can spend time with your family and try to forge real bonds that go beyond the superficial and the material. You can help others. You can buy one present or a thousand or even 10,000. You can pray, you can sing, and you can go to church. You can go to confession and/or start a spiritual journal. You can read the Christmas story in the Gospels and thrill to the angels visiting Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds in their fields as well as the Three Wise Men. Of course you are free to boycott the blood-stained toys and other items sold at the Great-Wall-of-China Mart.
Truly, there are no limits. If it strikes your fancy, you could even journey to the Himalayas in search of the fabled “Abominable Snow Monster” a.k.a. “The Bumble” as depicted in “Rudolph’s Christmas Special.” Not to be forgotten is the realization that no one can force you to present Santa Claus and Jesus Christ in the same context to your children. This while knowing full-well, in a few years hence, you’ll have to tell them one of the two was a total fabrication. And that “the world” will be joining in with an all-encompassing, mass-media onslaught to tell your children the other was a total fabrication as well.
So, during this holiday season you can in fact do anything and everything. The possibilities are endless. May you find your way via the Star of Bethlehem (which was probably a conjunction of the planet Jupiter) and reach that unassuming stable warmed by sheep, goats, donkeys and camels. For it is there you will unearth the never-ending treasures awaiting you in the manger. The miracle baby who changed the world forever – the Christ child – not Harry Potter, the “Little Buddha” or Dakota Fanning’s character in “Taken.” The little baby who came to save His sheep from hell. The little baby who continues to carry the seeds of love, hope, kindness, goodness, faith, courage, charity, justice and mercy. The baby who came to restore everything we’ve lost.
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