Essay / Culture

A Painful Merry Christmas

Our society is hard on cheerful people. Smart people are cynical,”ignorance is bliss.” Go to a serious movie and you are in for a tough emotional time, happy movies tend to be silly. No one says, “get real” to someone sad, though often our sorrow is as false and self-indulgent as our happiness. Pessimism and cynicism, about most everything, sound clever on television while an optimist or idealism is the language of a clown.That makes “Merry Christmas” a hard sell. There is an entire sub-culture of witless newspaper columnists who write yearly defenses of Scrooge and holiday hatred. Reasons for annoyance range from commercialization to annoying Christmas music. And yes, being trapped on a bus with a group of children singing the Twelve Days of Christmas can drive one partricide.Defenses of Christmas aren’t much better than the attacks. Remember: cynics get intelligence, believers are good hearted, dimwits. Defending anything based on religion, such as Christmas, must rely on feeling and not intellect, says our culture. Christmas is good, because it is about family, as if family is an unmixed blessing for most people. Christmas is good, because it is about “belief,” especially in the spirit of Santa. Since Santa does not exist, and recent holiday movies demand we believe in him, this seems like a call to madness. Christmas is also supposed to be about the “child within,” but in a culture in dire need of grownups this seems dangerous as well. Jesus once said to be like a little child regard to humility, but irrational Christmas marketers aren’t saying that. Christmas seems to involve believing in the unbelievable in order to regress to childishness.Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God and Man. If true, it is pivot moment of history. If false, it is useless. Best reason and best experience argue that it is true. My heart bears witness to His gentle Voice. My mind demands that I accept the truth of history. This moment when Heaven and Earth were brought together is the answer to the pain of our existence and that is the very problem with both cynicism about Christmas and most defenses of the holiday.The cynics see a world of pain and embrace it. Chaos is basic to their vision of the world, but their very rationality denies this view. The defenders act as if platitudes can solve problems. Warm hearts are not enough against cold reality.Christmas is for a world of pain. Christmas is good news, because it shows God comes down to Earth and saves us. Such news makes merry, but remains realistic. It is for sin, but about redemption. It denies nothing about human hurts, but does not rest content in them.Birth involves pain. The Virgin that conceived, bore a son in pain. The stable was not comfortable and Joseph was no Bradley birth coach. Mary brought forth the Son of God with no pain killers, not even an aspirin. Her reward? She held a baby who was God. Jesus was really a baby with all the needs and demands of a small infant. However, from the start, His mother must have seen the difference. I have had four children and not one has been greeted with angels, shepherds, and kneeling kings. Mary saw of all this in the first year. She also was told that a sword would pierce her heart.Christmas is so true, because it never forgets pain. It allows families to come together, but begins with a family in flight from evil and tyranny. It was famously better to be Herod’s pig than his son, so Christmas has never been unable to see the need for redemption even in family values. However, Christmas does not wallow in the evil. Herod is not allowed to dominate Christmas, not because of belief in belief or shmaltzy hopefulness, but because Christ is greater. God becoming flesh defeated the killer on the throne. His terror was not greater than Christ’s power.The abortionist tonight is less than the faithful, frightened girl carrying her child to term. The Dutch hospitals, Herods with post-modern ethics and modern tools, are less than the brave pastor who condemns them. Not because we wish it, but because the good sides with God. God is greater, more real, than the evil that disguises itself as pragmatics. Evil is not ignored, but it is not glorified.The historic church understood the balance of Christmas. Advent, a time of fasting, came first. Before the good news of the Angels came reflection the Day of Doom, Christ’s second coming. Advent delivers the hard news of sin, death, and judgment in the softening light of Holy Christmas. That is the nature of Advent and Christmas. Advent delivers the hard news and Christmas redeems it.The old Christmas songs talk about sin and hurt. The new Christmas ditties do not. Christmas Scrooges have not songs at all, just a “bah, hum bug.” The old songs were true. “God rest ye merry, gentleman, let nothing you dismay” is the truth. The gentleman are not merry, they can be merry despite a tendency to dismay only if they “remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.” Whatever our pain, we can have rest and merriment, because of a deeper truth. This is not cheap and it can never be marketed. It is good and beautiful.I love Christmas. I love it when I am hurting. It brings me joy at all times. The incarnation, God becoming man, brings the ideal and the actual together. The Christmas lights in the dark remind me of the Light that came to a dark world. Gifts remind me of God’s gift to us of His Son. The green tree reminds me of life eternal. Even Santa is a cheerful, if silly, reminder of Saint Nicholas, the great defender of the faith. The traditions of Christmas are based on facts that give us basis for good feeling. I can become merry (almost jolly!) when someone sings the old carols. In this world of sin, where meek souls will seek him still, the dear Christ enters in, and for this rule we can find joy in this tired old world.Let earth receive her King!

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