Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Arts YAP: Serving Up A Heaping Plate of the True Meaning of Christmas

Every December, for the last 12 years since I was ordained, I have been sick. I end up preaching a sermon where I sound something like this kid. I contaminate Communion. I might as well give up singing. Even my die-hard near the front worship sitters find someplace else to sit, lest I cover them in the haze of hacking and sneezing.

It started making me think about Christmas celebrations and what they're about. Today's post is filed under "arts" because it is art that has caused me to be a ponderer about the intersection of Incarnation and culture and the stresses that lead me to illness.

+ Making sense of the melding family traditions of my wife and I and our families of origin.
+ Facilitating a faithful season of worship in the congregation I serve.
+ The call of Advent.
+ Concern for those who don't find joy in the season because of loss.
+ The sights and sounds of the culture--some cacophonous, some wonderful. 
+ Public discourse and the attempts to define "The True Meaning of Christmas."

I've been hearing that phrase "The True Meaning of Christmas" for decades. It seemed good enough. Go to church, celebrate Jesus' birthday, be kind to people, help your neighbor. Eat and drink and sing a lot. I really enjoy it all. But it's also killing me. What was pushing me over the edge was the public discourse and "The War On Christmas." I have attempted to take on something wrapped in anxiety with my own anxiety-filled arguments.

What I've needed is some perspective and some healthier practices. I'll write about the healthier practices in the coming weeks. Today involves contributions from the arts. I offer these to you as pieces of scholarship, beauty, and perspective.

1. English Village Carols My brother gave this to me as a gift about 10 years ago, and I appreciate it more all the time. It's unlikely you'll recognize any of these Christmas carols, because they represent a "vigorous local tradition" in Northern England, particularly around Sheffield. According to music historian Ian Russell, these are not the songs of elite institutions of church or academia, but written by local laborers and craftspeople. The music is not overly produced, and not commercial radio-ready, but it is a strong witness to love of God and neighbor.

2. The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum. I received this book as a gift last year. I have not completed it yet, but I can already tell it's going to appear in some of my sermons and writings. Nissenbaum is a history professor and Jewish. He confesses some of the Christmas envy of his life--even though he was not allowed to participate in Christmas, he found a way to do it by filling a sack of gifts as a child and giving gifts to others. If you want perspective on celebrations and the nebulous "True Meaning of Christmas," this is a fascinating read.

Here is my takeaway from my history with Christmas and the perspective I have received: Christmas may not kill me instantly, but allowing it to create a death by a thousand cuts is not a good thing either. Many people (including the church) love to offer solutions to the frenzy and stress. Celebrate Christmas their way. What I've learned from my two arts offerings that the problem with me and my fellow Western Christian humans is that Christmas becomes yet another forum where we exercise control. The English Village Carols groups had their music removed from the church because the leadership couldn't control it. Nissenbaum chronicles the Puritans' hatred of Christmas because they couldn't control it. A little perspective makes me laugh at the frenzy to define the True Meaning of Christmas. From that perspective, I can see that it is precisely for our control freakishness that God comes to us in Jesus, and then dies on a cross. God comes neither in a way that we expect, nor control.

God, have mercy. Let us be well, my friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment