A Very Secular Christmas to You

My Facebook feed is filled these days with pictures of folks in red and green, children dressed up next to decorated trees and mantles, and ads for everything from fancy pajamas to cars to bar accessories.  My texts are filled with special offers from retailers, and my inbox is filled with the same.

The cable guide is awash in so-called Christmas movies, what we call sappy-crappy, all light and improbable romance stories that center around one or the other hating Christmas, Santa granting special wishes, etc., etc.  This year it is worse than ever, it seems to me.  There is so little real HEART in these things, and, worse, so rarely anything remotely celebrating or honoring or even mentioning the birth of Christ, which is, the “reason for the season” as some would say.

We aren’t doing gifts this year (except for tokens to the kids and grandkids), and even that has me thinking.  What is with this tradition of gift-giving?  Is it really an honoring of the gifts the Magi gave to the Christ-child?  Is it a remembrance of the gifts given by the real Saint Nicholas?  I find it hard to imagine how sexy pajamas or a luxury car are in any way going to remind you of the incarnation or of the blessing of generosity to the truly destitute.

It is true that we like to have reasons to give gifts to the people we love, but I feel like we have turned Christmas into an advertising gimmick, not a church service.  Christ Mass, is a church service.

I have been blessed to get to know people from many foreign countries, and recently I was sitting with some of them over a cup of tea when a gentleman lamented that they detest the massive displays of lights on people’s homes (although the one we were discussing was, to my mind, tasteful and understated).  I asked what it was like in Ireland this time of year.  Not like this. “But I suppose the U.S. cultural imperialism will change that.”  Although he and his family are U.S. citizens, it is clear that not everything about his adopted country is pleasing.

I’ve thought a lot about that offhand comment in an otherwise ordinary conversation, and I hope it isn’t true, though I fear it may be. There are things to embrace about our culture, but the lights and emphasis on decorations and shopping and the advertising madness is at the expense of solemnity and reverence, even among those of us who are believers.  It’s easy to get caught up in the nonsense at the expense of the divine–to watch sappy-crappy when I could be praying or reading scripture or doing something productive; to vegetate when I should meditate, to spend money on frivolities when there are hurting people all over the world who could use my help.

Ah, I’m preaching to myself, dear reader.  I am recognizing the depths of my frivolity, how I have taken the sacred and through my lack of attention and honor, desecrated it.  Well, I aim to take my Christmas back, to recognize and meditate on what it means to have God incarnate, to have God with us, to have God humble himself to become a human.   I aim to repent, to turn around and face that manger.

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