Each Advent season leading up to Christmas I find myself reacting negatively to two opposing seasonal realities. One is a reaction against the commercialism surrounding the season, the packed malls, busy streets, and the rushed and rude behaviour ardent Christmas shoppers. The other is a reaction to the mantra that well-meaning people dust off every year as a counter to the aforementioned commercialism: Keep Christ in Christmas. I despise the former and I am growing increasingly tired of the latter. Let me explain.
First, I sense a bit of hypocrisy in those who advocate that we keep Christ in Christmas. They seem to me to be just as caught up in the materialism, the decorations, the busyness, and the sentimentality. Sometimes I feel that they’re argument can be boiled down to a reaction against people saying “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings”. Keeping Christ in Christmas surely means more that making sure that everyone says “Merry Christmas” instead of some other politically correct greeting or balking at folks who write Xmas instead of Christmas (Please keep in mind that I am in no way coming to the defense of political correctness because I am just as agitated by that crowd).
Second, those who try to ensure Christ’s proper place in Christmas often overlook to glaring contradiction in our society this time of the year. Yes we all get a little crazy this time of the year and spend too much money, money we don’t actually have, for people we don’t actually like (let’s be honest here), on things people don’t really need. Lots and lots is written on this every year and you’d have to be blind or ignorant to not see the negative consequences of this for us, our bank account, and our planet. We should all agree that we need to work on our collective penchant toward consumerism. But what a lot of us overlook is the abundant kindness and goodwill that accompanies this time of the year. As much as we become selfish pricks this time of year we also become more generous than usual. People do food drives, collect toys, go carolling at Old Folks home, give to charity, go to churches that they normally avoid like the plague and travel long distances just to be with their families. These are good things, things that we should celebrate as the best of humanity. Aren’t kindness, compassion, generosity, and goodwill part of the spirit of Christmas? Isn’t this what it looks like to keep Christ in Christmas?
I firmly believe that our problem is not keeping Christ in Christmas but setting Christ free from Christmas. In fact we can’t keep Christ in Christmas because he refuses to stay there. Instead he demands that we follow him from the manger, through the slaughter of the Innocents and his refugee status in Egypt. We must walk with him through the back country of Palestine as Jesus teaches love, justice, kindness, and faithfulness to God. We must follow as he rubs shoulders with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and untouchables, but also never missing an opportunity to eat and talk with his enemies. We must walk the way of the cross as Jesus empties himself in death and is vindicated in resurrection. Not only that but in resurrection faith we follow Christ into our daily lives, into our homes, our neighbourhoods, our workplaces, our schools. We follow Christ into the shopping centres, the supermarkets, the voting booths. No, we can’t keep Christ in Christmas but we must allow him his proper place in all aspects of our lives. We can’t keep him as an idyllic baby in manger. We must let this vagabond loose in our lives to poke and prod, and transform us into the people God would have us be, which scarily enough is like Jesus.
So this year don’t keep Christ in Christmas, but keep him in your life all year round. Be kind, compassionate, and loving all year round. Don’t just give to the poor, be with the poor, or if you want to get really radical (like JC was known to do) become poor. Don’t limit generosity to the month of December, but love your neighbour, local and global, as yourself all year long. Don’t just go to church, but become a part a loving and welcoming faith community. Be selfless not selfish. Always love kindness, do justice and walk humbly with God.