Monday, November 25, 2013

The dueling isms of the season: Secularism & Consumerism

Thanksgiving is this week and we all know what that means!  Its Christmas!!

I love Christmas.  It is a beautiful holiday!  I love gingerbread houses and Christmas lights and Santa Clause.  I love mistletoe and feel good movies.  I love fireplaces and poetry and songs.  I love gift giving and gift wrapping and gift getting.  Movies talk about Christmas magic, and I can buy into that.  Christmas is fantastic fun.

The question comes up every year.  Can I celebrate Christmas with the world without stripping this holy day of meaning?  I don't think the fun is dulled if it is shared. I don't think the meaningful intent is stolen away by people who share these traditions without the meaningful intent.

I hear the noise.  "Keep Christ in Christmas!"  The rage against Santa and generic Holidays happens every year.  This year, we are supposed to be mad at the postal service who sent out an anti-Christmas flier.

I read an interesting, but familiar, blog post yesterday about secularization.  The writer claims that if you make a kid choose between a magic man who can fly and who gives you presents and a baby, the magic man wins.  So, she is kicking Santa out.  I get that.  I disagree, but I get it.

Most Christians can talk about St. Nicholas and how he evolved into the jolly man we invite into our homes.  Most Christians can talk comfortably about the various pagan roots of various Christmas traditions without flinching.  (But let someone wish them, "Happy holidays," and wow.  War on Christmas.  War on Christians.  Persecution!)  We love our various traditions.

(Fair warning: I am about to reveal my inner grinch.)

Every year at about this time I start to get irritated.  I get more and more irritated all through Advent and right up until Christmas.

"The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Upon those who lived in a land of gloom
a light has shone." Isaiah 9:1

Advent is not shopping season.  Advent is not mini-Christmas.  We are waiting for our Lord.  We are His people, in expectant, hopeful anticipation of the Messiah.  That is what this season is about.  In our color coded calendar, Catholics can see that Advent and Lent are purple.   Purple reminds us to prepare.
"In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”" Matthew 3:1
We are the people waiting in hopeful darkness while a giant reindeer blinks his flashing red nose and a chorus of merry elves sing, dance and jingle all the way.

We are not waiting. We are celebrating. We have decided, as a culture, to skip Advent. It is like you spot a beautiful wrapped present with your name on it, but some mischievous brat yells out what is inside before you can touch it. Yes. Christmas will still happen, and yes it will still be meaningful, but someone stole Advent, and with it part of the fun. They stole the build up. They stole the wonder. They stole the mystery.

I am raising three little girls.  I am determined to give them the gift of wonder.  Mystery and hope will mark the season, and it won't be over-shadowed by a wimpy, saccharine, echo of joy.  We will celebrate Advent so we can celebrate Christmas.
"People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way."
I am not going to take Santa away from my kids to drive home some holy point.  I am not going to sneer at the cheerful "Happy Holidays" wishes.  I will delight in the good wishes of strangers, and I'll wish them good will.  I will enjoy watching Charlie Brown and Its a Wonderful Life and maybe even Rudolf.

Thursday is Thanksgiving.  Sunday, Advent.
"Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel."
The world needs God.  We are always hearing about how we need God more now than ever.  We are the people of God, waiting for our Messiah.  The King of Kings will come, and we wait.  Joyfully.  Expectantly.  Faithfully.  We wait in the darkness for the light.  Advent is not just a countdown.  It is a time to prepare and reflect.  As we get ready to celebrate His first coming, we recall that He will come again.  We prepare.  Get your homes ready!  Make it beautiful!  Bring in family and friends and fill the world with song!  But remember what we are celebrating.  This is not a cute baby story.  This is the story of light conquering darkness- and it is not over yet!  He will come again.

"A voice proclaims:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!"  Isaiah 40:3


This year, I am determined not to be irritated by the evincive juxtaposition of Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  I won't do it.  I won't cry foul when Christians refuse to admit complicity in the secularization of Christmas or whine about nonsense "persecutions."

This year we will celebrate Advent, because when Advent holds its own as a season to prepare for Jesus, the dueling isms, consumerism and secularism, pale like glitter next to a diamond. The story about a magic elf with gifts might trump the cute baby, but the magic elf story cannot hold a candle to the true story. The advent story. For thousands of years, the Lord prepared His people and they waited.  He taught them, and led them, and protected them, and loved them. There were wars and there were miracles, all in preparation for one great King. They wandered. They were "the people who walked in darkness."  They knew He would come.  And He came.  He came for each and every one of us.  In His perfect plan, God chose humility. And the angels, the beautiful, awesome, terrifying angels adored Him.  

Santa?  He is welcome in my home, so long as he bows before the King.  And the King has not come yet.  If Santa trumps Jesus, you are telling the story wrong.

Be grateful. Then prepare. The King is coming!