Monday, November 4, 2013

Christmas anxiety

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Christmas is coming.  It always fills me with a bit of anxiety, I have to admit. So much work, so much hype, so many expectations, so much shopping, so much pressure to make it fabulous.  Every year I wonder if I am up for the whirlwind that Christmas has become. Mostly, I fear that I am losing something important in the crazy mix of sacred rituals, out-of-control consumerism, and cultural trappings that make up Christmas in North America.

Now before you go on and call me the Grinch (I do have those tendencies at times, it's true), let's get back to a few basics. First, Jesus is the greatest gift of love and life that has ever appeared on this earth and no tradition, event, gift, or dramatic pageant will ever adequately celebrate the incredible appearance of the Creator of the world as a humble baby on this earth.  Second, the way in which Jesus came to live among us was also underwhelming, disgraceful, unexpected, dirty, weak, and even offensive. It is impossible to truly capture the scandal of it in any Christmas tradition. Third, remembering and celebrating the birth of Jesus are important and necessary, but it is equally necessary to align what we celebrate with how we celebrate. If we neglect to keep the two elements in sync, we will end up with a celebration that has little resemblance to the original event or its intent.

Let me suggest that there is a close connection between celebrating Christmas and partaking in communion. The care with which we ingest the body and blood of Christ can be a helpful model for how we as followers of Jesus celebrate his birth. A brief look at 1 Corinthians 11 shows that there are some significant parallels between the two remembrances. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to address some problems they were having, including some unfortunate behaviours and attitudes on display when they gathered to celebrate communion. It isn't much of a stretch to apply these warnings to our contemporary Christmas celebrations. Are our celebrations bringing out the worst instead of the best in people?  Are there divisions happening, is there competition between people, are criticisms being tossed around? Are people prone to overeating and drunkenness, thereby neglecting the poor and hungry and leaving others out of the celebration? Has the celebration become exclusive and indulgent instead of inclusive and generous?

Paul then reminded people what the celebration was all about. Our celebration is to remember Jesus. By our words and actions our celebration enacts the gift of God. Our celebration is meant to draw us back to Jesus, to remind us that Jesus was among us then and is among us now.  We must not let our celebrations become familiar and mundane.  Let us examine our motives and test our hearts every time we celebrate. Let us approach the celebration with holy awe. If we neglect to do this, it could put us in an unfortunate situation.  Let us be reverent and courteous with one another. Let us not turn our celebration into a family squabble or an eating and drinking binge. This celebration is a spiritual time. So let us feast on the love of God and invite others to join us at the table.

This is the Christ-mass.

Matte from Montreal

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