A long time back (December 18th, 2008, to be exact), on a different blog, I wrote the following:
Before anyone calls me a Grinch (which designation I’d happily accept, given the outcome of the tale), I’m going on record as not having been fond of a lot of what we now call holidays – holy days – since I started reading and researching them. If you are caught up in the cultural thing, that’s fine – I’m not aware of many others who, like me, think that raising kids without Santa and all the other nonsense is a better way – but recognize that what we are doing is, in fact, celebrating cultural accretions attached to a single day. I do believe that there is much more wrong with the celebration of Christmas as a cultural event than the crass commercialism, and I never have cared for the fact that early church leaders freely edited our calendars by co-opting the sacred days of pagans and turned them into high holy days.
Regardless of the date of Christ’s birth, the shadow of the cross was there all along. If that day was, in fact, May 23rd (to choose a date off the top of my head), it would be no less holy than we try to make December 25th; perhaps that is the nature of one aspect of the difficulty I have with how we celebrate Christmas, in that we try to make something holy when we don’t feel God’s agreement. I suspect that holds true for a lot more people than me on a far greater number of issues related to their faith (which might go a ways toward explaining the statistic generated in the Pew Forum survey) – but that is for another post.
The material below is from USA Today:
“The focus on peace and giving gifts allows you to safely focus on nice things instead of the idea that God sent his son Jesus to be Christ, who dies on a cross. It’s human nature to want to take the ‘nice’ without the ‘truth,’ ” says Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research in Nashville
It’s not that Christmas partying is wrong: There just has to be a larger purpose for it, says pastor and author Rick Warren. His newest book, The Purpose of Christmas, cites celebration as one of the three things announced by the angels at Christ’s birth, along with salvation and reconciliation to God.
But social scientists say several trends work against the push to focus on doctrine:
- The percentage of U.S. adults who say they have no religious identity has more than doubled, from 7% in 1990 to 15.2% in 2008, says sociologist Barry Kosmin, principal investigator of the American Religious Identification Survey and a research professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
- Data from Christian trends researcher Barna Research in Oxnard, Calif., finds the long-familiar bump in Christmas church attendance is mostly somewhat-regular attendees coming in from the cold more often.
- Interfaith marriages — in which couples often blur or ignore religious differences — have increased from 2.9% of U.S. adults in 1973 to 8.5% in 2006, says Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey for the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
But ultimately, the most significant reason behind the shift away from focusing on a religious Christmas that stresses the birth of Jesus may be found in the latest survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The survey found that more than half of U.S. Christians (52%) today do not say Christianity is the exclusive path to eternal life.
Horton blames Christians themselves for taking the Christ out of Christmas. “Secularism cannot be blamed on the secularists, many of whom were raised in the church. We are the problem,” he says.
I was not going to write anything else on the blog for the remainder of the year; a nice, low-key break to think about a number of issues in life looked good to me, and I do hold decidedly unpopular views on the artificiality of the celebration of the season to begin with. Many, many writers, far more gifted than I at putting the pictures and garland in place on the mantelpiece of the heart have already pointed back to the truths about the meaning – not the reason – of the season, and since my take is easily seen as a jarring note, I thought it best to keep quiet.
Rochelle’s post changed that for me, in ways that are hard to explain. I may fail, but it deserves the effort.
I know – I don’t have to ask – that Warren is tired of life as it is in so many ways. He’s tired of the pain; the frequently bricked-up bowels from years of bad diet, the multiple hip surgeries, the nerve damage from the stenosis and the curvature of his spine, and the relatively new pain in his right shoulder from having to support his surgical leg when he walks. He hits 94 this month, a day before my own birthday, and he is tired. He jokes about us dropping him off at Hartquist’s (the local funeral home) when we are on our way back from yet another visit to the clinic, to which we reply only if they are running a three for one special that week. He misses his wife, dead seven years now, and wants to join her – but it is not yet time, though he is tired of waiting. For whatever reason God has set the number of His days to be what they are, and we are here to make sure he has them in comfort, in dignity, and with family around at all times, making such accommodations to the living space as we must – and to our lives as well.
Waiting is hard work sometimes, and sometimes it seems to require more patience that we have. That is an illusion – we merely need to focus what patience He’s given us better, and sometimes? Even the desire to do that is hard – but we all wait on God for His instructions. His timing. His gifts…
Considering the outcome of the story, I’ll take the title of Grinch (or better yet, Scrooge, my other favorite Christmas tale), so long as the story is told all the way through to the end. The Grinch’s heart does grow. The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge could not have happened without the intervention of the four ghosts who gave him the ability to see where he had come from, who he was (and was not), and where he might end if the shadows remained unaltered by the future. Who we are gets placed back in perspective – not by Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales any more than by tinsel and lights – when we experience that conviction of the heart that comes without packages, boxes, or bows. The date doesn’t matter – we do. Shift the focus from the waiting and the distractions to the hope we wait for.
O come Emmanuel.
May God bless, and if He is willing, see you in 2015.
-  I have no problem whatsoever in seeing the ghosts of Marley, Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come as different manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Those who disagree are certainly free to do so; my salvation does not rest on my opinions (or yours) or in literary criticism. ↩