Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas is ruined? Lord, have mercy.

My daughter and I watched "Merry Christmas, Charile Brown" on the average of once per day during this Advent. I loved this story as a child. For some reason the storyline of Charlie Brown struggling with the meaning of Christmas in relation to commercialism is more tastefully executed and thought provoking than anything I have read or heard in public discourse in recent memory.

As a teenager, I recall coming home from Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Olympia, Washington during the Advent and Christmas seasons and finding my mother upset because one of our pastors saw it as his homiletical duty to rip on the retail industry and its relationship to Christmas. During that time in our lives, the retail industry provided employment to my mother, and essentially food on our table, clothing for our bodies (at a discounted rate from the employer), and an opportunity to help my brothers and I pay for our college educations. Certainly I am no paragon of virtue--I like stuff. I am a pagan heathen. My family sending my mother into employment was another story of a stay at home mother moving into the workforce. I am sure that my mother selling women's undergarments was a key reason for ruining Christmas for a local pastor. To some degree, my mother's employment encouraged the family to get stuff that we did not need. Such are the lives of sinners. I buy all kinds of junk I do not need.

One of the things I miss about Lutheran liturgy is that I had the opportunity to sing "Lord, have mercy" almost every week.

Lord, have mercy. All kinds of people are complaining about how their Christmas is going. Some conservatives complain that the athiests and liberals are ruining Christmas because the culture has drifted into using the greeting "Happy Holidays." Liberals make speeches that conservative complaint about Christmas greetings carry no substance when they encourage market forces for people to buy, buy, buy without any reflection on why, why, why? Idealists on each side of the political spectrum complain that people cannot seem to separate themselves from buying stuff and that Christmas is ruined through the work of the retail industry. A recent Sojourners article pushed me to this reflection when one more writer declared that Christmas is ruined. Many people have come to the church looking for assistance during this season--hoping to pay for food and maybe a gift for their families. Without our assistance, their Christmas is also ruined. Christmas is ruined...

Lord, have mercy.

First, a little perspective. Since the post-Civil War era, Christmas has been ruined in America. Rebecca Edwards in the Christian Science Monitor chronicles the history of American commercialism and Christmas. The public often sees commercialism and Christmas as a recent issue. I would guess that Christmas was even ruined before that. The Evangelists known as Mark and John did not include Jesus' birth into their final draft about the claim about the centrality of Jesus in salvation history. I am sure that Mark and John also had horrible Christmas holidays and did not want to remember Jesus' birth.

The way Christmas is set up on the calendar, people will always complain during this holiday season. Regardless of the hemisphere of residence, Christmas is in a season of extreme temperature. It is either really dark, or the sun shines well into the night. Both of these natural rhythms in the year tend to send our bodies out of balance--either craving the sunlight or the peaceful darkness in hope for some rest. In the midst of this state of imbalance, Christmas is a time to get together with family. When I get together with family at Christmas, I recognize how much of a sinner I am, and I see the sins that have been passed on from generation to generation. The chance to be reminded of family divisions, personal failures and being presented the frightening opportunity to reconcile is anxiety ridden. I eat too much in this swirl of anxiety, and I imagine this is a struggle for other as well.

If the above paragraph is true, then I ask and plead, Lord, have mercy.

On this Christmas Eve, I plead for anyone who cares to take in my words to plead to God for mercy. Certainly because you and I are sinners, but mostly because it is our tendency this time of year to be complainers. My plea is for the people of God to be gentle with one another, because when faced with our shortcomings and temperature and light extremes, we have a hard time welcoming peace. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the season, we celebrate a God who comes to us in Jesus not because we make it happen, but a God who comes because we are loved by God, and that because God comes, we are called to sit in awe. If only but for a moment.

Lord, have mercy.


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