Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Shame to regard Christmas with disdain
Ron Ferguson, minister of St Magnus Church of Scotland at Kirkwall up in the Orkneys tells about an amusing incident in the Scots village of Langholm. Last year the townsfolk contributed an entire week of shared labor erecting Christmas lights throughout the village in preparation for the big switch-on in November. There was a technical program that caused the lights to go on earlier than planned, so that Langholm was aglow with Christmas all through October!
There is no doubt that Christmas comes earlier every year as you get older. But it is a shame to me that so many people seem to regard Christmas almost with disdain than with anticipation. The sheer volume of preparation and expenditure squeezes out the fun for many people. Too much cooking, too much shopping, too many bills to pay come January. I have frequently had people tell me with a straight face that they don’t have time for church in the Christmas season because they are so busy with . . . well, Christmas!
Some people say that what goes on in our American secular Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of that baby in Bethlehem. They say that a national shopping season has ridden into fashion, hijacking Santa’s sleigh. It is true that more major purchases, like cars and washing machines, are purchased in December, and decorated with ribbons and bows. And one could ask how curious it is to celebrate the birth of a child born into poverty in Bethlehem by spending lots of money on presents for people who have more than enough already.
I bring all this up at the end of October because I am not ready to concede that Christmas is evil, even though I do think that the stockholders of Wal-Mart do take advantage of little children’s susceptibility to the power of suggestion, causing Mother and Daddy to do things they shouldn’t with the family credit card. I still think that every mention of Christmas, no matter how crass or commercialized, still raises with it, the possibility, at least, that people might consider the true meaning of the season and find their way in heart and mind even unto Bethlehem, and to the Child, lying in a manger.
To that end, why not resolve to make this Christmas more what Christmas ought to be? By starting to think this way in October, one might possibly avoid being in over one’s head come December.
1. I find great meaning in the simple carols of Christmas. I don’t mean the fluffed-up, “canned” versions that come at you via the Muzak. I mean the simple carols, sung simply by a choir that does not make you feel the manger has been moved to Las Vegas.
2. I also think it worth while to set a budget and stick with it. Do it for both calories and presents.
3. My grandmother said that children rejoiced to get oranges and candy. Well, fruit and home-baked goodies are still lots nicer than things from a store.
4. Grandmother also said that one of the highlights was the lighting of the Christmas tree. I know we cannot turn back time to the 1880s, which is when she remembered. I don’t want to do that and see no virtue in it even if we could. But taking pleasure in the simple things is a timeless virtue, and it is just counter-intuitive enough that I commend it as a possible way to find happiness in an unexpected way. Figure out how to make the children see this is special. They will thank you for it someday.
5. Do for others, which is the basic lesson of Jesus and of Santa. There are plenty of worthy causes, and I will not favor just one. The key is to make your involvement in such a cause a joyful act, and then you will feel you have received as well as given.
I believe the “commercialization” of Christmas is really to give the season short-shrift. It’s easy to find ourselves serving up mass produced presents from the mall in substitution for creative thoughtfulness.
You can’t do everything, and too many people try. The best thing would be if we could teach a child the true meaning of the season, so they could catch its spirit. If we did that it would be the best present of all, don’t you think?
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