Monday
Dec202010

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the christmas angel piggy high upon our tree, with some of our christmas decor in the background on the mantel.Our new Christmas tree angelChristmas is here. It sneaks up so fast, even on those of us who forgo the busy-ness of the season, particularly avoiding the commercial shopping extravaganza and the scene that accompanies that. I've been keen on trying to find not just the religious (i.e., Christian) value in it, but the cosmological value of the season. I've enjoyed re-reading a book I got in 2004, The Dance of Time. It's a charming telling of how the calendar got to be what it is, shaped by the streams of cultural flow and upheaval that shaped our holidays. It is a nice read that touches on history, religion, mythology. It has a quite poetic and wonder-inducing tone. In it, author Michael Judge makes a case that Christmas is what it is because it is the intersection of universally appealing themes that meet up and reinforce each other. The layers of Christmas, coming from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, are some of the primary layers, but the meaning of those stories is merged with the mythology of the Romans who celebrated the Saturnalia—an admittedly decadent time but one that touched on gift giving, role reversal, a bit of charitable effort, notable considering the Romans' normal pursuits. Christmas has layered upon it the mythology of the northern Europeans with narratives and celebrations that are shaped by the bitter cold of those regions, and the long winters that took hardy people to survive them, but also grace. Linking the Christian holiday with the existing pagan celebrations and stories helped to ensure that the new religion would have staying power. Timing it to coincide with the solstice is genius too, since the "real" date of Jesus' birth is both unknown and essentially irrelevant since it was his magnificent spirit, the Christ, that defines his legacy. It is no real stretch to see his amazing consciousness be the light in the darkness, like a raging yule log fire, or the promise of the sun's return. Jesus might be the reason for a religion that proclaims him but he too is part of a larger cosmic order of things. If not for his life in a desert at a lower latitude, were he to be from the northern lands, maybe this would make more sense, talking about the dark nights of the solstice week, and all the things that people do to celebrate that cosmological axis point.

Christmas is a human holiday, not just for Christians. What Jesus taught, said, and how he lived is the message, the light in the darkness, that is open and free to anyone. Sometimes the ones who receive it best are the ones not already on the inside. I think this is how it is supposed to be. I find that Jesus, stripped of the excessive gunk that has accumulated over the years, is a stellar figure not because of any twinkle-twinkle little star kind of talk, but because of his humanity. The title that people use to describe him, the Son of Man, essentially means he is the essential human one. The gift of Jesus is the gift of being shown how our deepest humanity is where our God-likeness is to be found, our divinity. I wish that that message was not so distorted so that people would dismiss it from their cynicism.

In the picture, there is a rather unconventional collection of items that might be a bit blasphemous in certain circles! There is some humor to be found, if you know my thing about pigs. The main creche is a porcelain one that my grandparents had for years. A family friend made them in about 1970. Any creche automatically does a disservice to the two different biblical stories about the birth of Jesus; they invariably merge the Matthew account with wise men with the Luke account of animals and angels and shepherds. We at least partition the two onto different sides, in order to respect the two different ideas of what happened—a case for Christological diversity of opinion from the earliest times. For this year, we substituted the creche's Mary and Joseph and manger-bound Jesus with a ceramic candle holder of Joseph sheltering Mary, who has Jesus in her arms. Lining up before them are some wooden angels that Kelli has had for years.

Another angel, a fragile homemade job made from a styrofoam cup, a styrofoam ball for a head, and some fabric for wings, met her match as we dug out the ornaments this year. We had to resort to other means for an angel. Okay, so you can bet there were no pigs in a barn in Judea on the night Jesus was born, but after Peter's dream, we on the Christian path were given leave of that kind of division in the world! So it is no long stretch to have a pig be the angel adorning the pagan Christmas tree! We've taken to liking real trees or at least wreaths in recent years. After years of plastic toys for trees, it has been nice to have the real thing. They are evergreens, after all. And there might be a bit of a theological case for an evergreen in the dead of winter as a sign of God's mastery of things.

Yeah, we're part of the cultural Christmas mashup. It is sometimes absurd and illogical. Sometimes irreverent and maybe even a little blasphemous. But there is something about celebrating life in the darkest hour that is compelling. It apparently has been something that can't be turned off, nor should it be. I don't mind Santa except for how he's been bought out by the wrong interests. But he too is okay. Life is okay. Living is okay. Tis all we got. It is the message of Jesus that life is okay, and it is okay to emulate the natural world around us—to be like the birds and the lilies. So too should we charge ahead with reckless love of life in the darkest hour, if only to be defiant. Merry Christmas. (And God bless us, EVERY ONE!)

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