Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Christmas Critique

Please allow me to confess that I have a tendency to critique and criticize, which is a kind way to say that I am quick to complain and judge. Some things deserve judgment and complaint, and constructive criticism can prove quite useful, but my attitude often dips into these more negative aspects of such practices. Thus, there is a constant temptation for me to complain about the secularization of Christmas and the Advent season. I do not mean the tendency for stores to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" or the many, many movies concerning Santa Claus. No, my temptation is to point out the crass commercialism of the Christmas season, the way it is inaugurated by "Black Friday" two days before the first Sunday of Advent on which humans act inhuman in order to acquire goods for low prices, or the tension-building stresses that invade our patient expectation of the coming Messiah.* There is no denying that Christ is often lost from Christmas, that the child Jesus is too often overshadowed by merry old Saint Nick, that Starbucks sells Advent calendars which eventually open to the 25th to find Santa, and that many people who celebrate Christmas do it for reasons which have nothing to do with the Nativity. It is worth noting, though, that the unique nature of the problems with the way Christmas is celebrated in the West today highlights the continuing impact of Christ on Christmas, even when He is removed from the central focus.
Take for example the problem of commercialism and consumerism. We spend so much money this time of year, particularly on non-essential items, and people are encouraged to make lists of things they want. The negative connotation here is obvious, but consider that this is the one time of year in which the great majority of people ask others what they want and use their time and money in order to give good gifts to others. Although consumerism exists, it is for a time altered to show concern for others instead of oneself.
Although many people believe that the point of Christmas is not the birth of the Incarnate God, they at least mistakenly believe that love, generosity, family, friendship, and human interaction are the "reasons for the season." Surely the birth of Jesus and God's love for mankind should properly have pride of place in the Christmas and Advent season, but at least those who forget this tend to replace it with a focus upon values better than those they hold to the rest of the year.
Let us not forget the common unofficial "Christmas Day Truces" which broke out throughout World War I and resulted in soldiers from both sides of the conflict temporarily ceasing their hostilities and enjoying meals and games together. Christmas also inspires many to care for the poor and homeless in their communities with food and clothing. Relatives who rarely speak to one another come together for a short time of fellowship that stands at odds with their usual routines.
The impact that God's self-giving, sacrificial, peacemaking love makes this time of year, even amongst those who have forgotten Him, declares Christ's perfect reign so that even those who are not listening might yet hear. Merry Christmas.

*Note that I still managed to subtly complain about these very things. I really do have a problem.