I heard a surprising (metaphorical) cry from my church this year. It seems that someone’s upset about us singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus at Christmas. It seems they don’t want us to focus so much on the birth of Christ, but on the true meaning of Christmas.
Can that be true? A meaning of Christmas that isn’t Jesus? If you take the Christ out of Christmas, you just get Mas. Although “Merrymas!” is fun to say, it seems a little hollow when compared to THE BIRTH OF CHRIST! (That’s my godly voice, BTW.)
Well, actually Christmas isn’t a celebration of the birth of Christ. Jesus was born in the springtime when the shepherds would be out tending their flocks. If we were celebrating his birth, we would celebrate then.
So what are we celebrating? Not Jesus at all?
Yes, Jesus…but we’re celebrating what he represents, not when he was born.
A winter holiday for Christians was borrowed from the Pagans.
Some time ago, I was convinced that the appropriation of Yule from the pagans was a political move to either win pagans to Christianity or to appease the ones that were forcibly converted. I don’t believe that anymore. As far as the calendar goes, it makes the most literal sense to celebrate his birth in the spring. As far as the wheel of the year goes, it makes the most symbolic sense to celebrate the coming of Jesus in the thick of winter. It’s the celebration of Yuletide, the holiday that reminds us that in the deepest, darkest, coldest part of the year…when we might be running low on supplies and worried about whether we might actually be able to make it through, literally we might die…but…there is hope. And hope is the reason for the season.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus is that hope.
In both traditions Yule and Christmas are holidays to keep away despair. Despair, after all, is not only a mortal sin but unforgivable (I John 5.16 -17).
In many ways I feel we should be celebrating that hope instead of his birth. It’s a holiday practice in which we are supposed to banish despair!
…but we are easily distracted.
That’s the reason throughout his life he would keep telling his followers and those he healed not to go around telling anyone. He had a lot of important thing to say, but if people stopped thinking of him as the Teacher and started thinking of him as that-guy-who-heals-lepers they’re going to miss the point. After all, healing blind people is cool! The beatitudes were nice, but making the lame walk? That’s awesome!
It’s the same way with Christmas: virgin births and angelic chorus are a lot more dramatic than the simple idea of hope, so it’s easy to get distracted.
Christmas is a celebration of hope.
Hope is a rather abstract word. In this sense it’s keeping one’s spirit up. They “If we pull together, we’ll make it through” kind of attitude that Pagans and Christians share alike. The best thing you can do this Christmas is to support someone in their time of need: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and visit the sick. What could be more Christian that that? (In fact I think those are the corporal woks of mercy. Thanks, Sr. Donald!) It’s these things, but also the everyday things, too. Be nice to each other. Sing. Take time to play! Anything you need to do to keep your spirits up, do it! Don’t give in to despair. Keep your spirits up and raise the spirits of others.
So does that really mean no singing “Happy Birthday” in church?
It depends. Does singing songs to Jesus raise your spirits? Does it help you keep going through the year until better times come? Does it help you remember that the birth of Jesus heralds hope for us all? Then, YES! Sing “Happy Birthday” in church!
Does that mean I can sing “Frosty, the Snowman”.
This is one of my favorite Christmas carols. Snow is a scary, deadly thing. Anyone that’s been caught in an avalanche or lost on a winter hike will tell you that there’s nothing cheery or happy about snow, but the exercise of finding joy in terror is what Christmas is all about. YES! Sing “Frosty the Snowman!”
What about Christmas Trees, Candy Canes, and Nutcrackers?
Do they raise your spirits? Then, YES! If you want to make up a neat, little story to connect them to your faith then sure…Christmas trees are always green like our hearts should always be hopefully…candy canes are shaped like the first letter of Jesus (as long as you don’t spell in in Greek or Hebrew)…nutcrackers…um…well…oh! Even though it looks like a walnut can’t sustain you because it’s shell is too tough, he can crack through and nourish your body the way Jesus can crack through your doubt and nourish your soul. Heck, you don’t even really need a reason to be cheerful this time of year. If something that has nothing to do with Jesus raises your spirit, then I’m sure He would approve. That’s why He came!
…but that doesn’t mean Santa’s okay, does it?
Of course not! A man whose sole reason for existing is to bring joy to children? Bah! That sounds like it has nothing to do with Christmas! Are you kidding?
Yes…but like with all things you must look at them through the reason for the season: Hope.
Jesus is easy. Jesus is hope. You don’t have to work to make that leap. Santa’s more dangerous. If you believe that Santa is a man that will give you everything you want as long as you’re good, then I don’t believe that has a place in Christmas. If you believe that the world is a pretty tough and miserable place, but it’s worthwhile to dedicate yourself to making the lives of others more pleasant…then yes, Virginia, you can have a Santa Claus.
Hope, health, and happiness.
Those are the three things I wish you this Holiday season.
If you’re pagan, keep the yule log burning…the harvest will come again. I promise.
If you’re Christian, keep the advent candles burning…Jesus will come again. I promise.
If you’re Jewish, keep the menorah candles burning…miracles will happen again. I promise.
We’ve all got something we’re waiting for, and we all need hope in our lives.