A Gathering Voices Post by Bob Cornwall
While many Christians find it difficult to keep focused, others are also upset at store clerks who greet them with “Happy Holidays” instead of the obligatory “Merry Christmas.” They get angry the “Christmas party” is now a “holiday party.” To them, December belongs to Christians, and they want to be treated with “respect.” Never mind that not everyone enjoying the season is a Christian. Indeed, our Jewish friends speak of a “December Dilemma.”
Christmas has long had both a secular and a religious side to it. At least since the mid-nineteenth century Santa has played a key role in the story of the season. Even if the legend of Santa is rooted in Christian lore, Santa long ago transcended religious and ethnic boundaries. Surely Santa’s sleigh visits every child’s home, no matter their religious profession. Still, in an age when Christians are feeling like they’re losing market share in the religious marketplace, many seem intent on claiming the season as their own. Thus, they feel obliged to berate poor sales clerks who offer them a joyous “season’s greeting,” when “Merry Christmas” is supposedly the only legitimate greeting.
In the midst of the secular and commercial side of the season, Christians have been asking -- how do we keep Christ in Christmas? Here are five suggestions on how you can:
1. Be kinder
Perhaps the first way we could go about this is to bring an end talk about the war on Christmas. We can do this by offering a different witness when we go shopping (and most of us will do at least some shopping). Knowing that some of our sisters and brothers will have attacked retail clerks, let us offer a word of grace and thanks to those who often work long hours for little pay so that we can get our shopping in before the dawning of Christmas morn.
2. Wait to go (or limit) your shopping
Maybe it would be wise to avoid seeking out the big deals on Thanksgiving Evening. Waiting to go shopping, even if you don’t get the best bargains, might be a worthwhile discipline. Yes, fasting from Black Friday frenzy might be a good spiritual discipline. I’m not saying don’t go shopping, just don’t make it the focus of your life calling.
3. Observe Advent
Observing Advent is always a helpful antidote. The message of Advent is one of preparation and anticipation. It has dark overtones due to its penitential origins. As with Lent, Advent helps us set aside our self-absorption. It is a call to let go of the need for instant gratification. Yes, the message of Advent is one of waiting patiently for the coming of God’s realm.
4. Give back
Setting aside time for service to others can redirect our attention away from the commercial side. There are many ways we can do this. Our congregation has for many years created gift bags for the Detroit Head Start, with clothing, books, and gifts for the children. Making the holiday a bright one for the “least of these” can be a way of stepping back from the brink.
5. Go to church
Finally, make it a priority to attend worship on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Morning. For me, Christmas hasn’t been Christmas without Christmas Eve worship. Growing up in the Episcopal Church we attended Midnight Mass – at least from the time that I was old enough to stay up that late. Sure I was dead-tired the next afternoon, but Christmas was defined by the singing of sacred carols and sharing at the altar. I still feel that this is the key to Christmas. If you want to put Christ back into Christmas, be sure to come and worship at the feet of the babe born in Bethlehem.
Yes, we can keep Christ in Christmas even in the midst of an increasingly commercialized age. The choice is ours!