Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas - Bah, Humbug!

Hey, wait a minute - doesn't this blog say something about "Catholic?"  Isn't Christmas one of those big days with Catholics where people who never go to Church will actually show up because it is just that important?  Then what's with the "Bah, Humbug" stuff?  Oh yes, Christmas is a very important day to me, and one which I will celebrate joyfully and thankfully.  So what is my problem?

A lot of people get very upset about the secularization of Christmas.  But I have to say that I'm not overly bothered by those folks who refuse to say "Merry Christmas" and will become incensed if you so much as bring up the "Christ" part of Christmas.  They leave no doubt about what they do and don't believe.  I appreciate their honesty and forthrightness. 

What I really hate is the sentimentalization of Christmas. If I have to hear "Jingle Bell Rock" one more time, I will not be responsible for my actions! To me, Mariah Carey's voice is like a thousand finger nails on the blackboard at any time of the year, but I truly, truly hate listening to her sing "All I want for Christmas is you!" I have a "slowly I turn" moment whenever I hear that "Christmas is for the children." And what in the world does snow ("I'm dreaming of a white Christmas") have to do with what Christmas is really about??!!! Does anyone think it is rather ironic that the two most popular Christmas songs - "White Christmas" and "The Christmas Song" ("chestnuts roasting on an open fire") - were written by secular Jews (Irving Berlin and Mel Torme, respectively)?

We see countless TV shows and movies about "Christmas". Below are some quotes from famous "Christmas" movies:

“Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” — Fred Gailey, Miracle on 34th Street

“Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing” — Little Elf Judy, The Santa Clause.

“This is extremely important. Will you please tell Santa that instead of presents this year I just want my family back?” — Kevin, Home Alone 1.

“It’s Christmas Eve. Good deeds count extra tonight. Think of an important thing you can do for other and go do it. Just follow the star in your heart.” — The Bird Lady, Home Alone 2.

“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: Candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” — Buddy, Elf.

“Santa, don’t forget the Grinch. I know he’s mean and hairy and smelly, and his hands are cold and clammy but I think he’s kind a… sweet.” — Cindy Lou Who, The Grinch.

“Look daddy. Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” — Zuzu Bailey, It’s a Wonderful life.

“You’re skipping Christmas! Isn’t that against the law?” — Spike Frohmeyer, Christmas with the Kranks.

“This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas — as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart” — Santa Claus, The Polar Express

“You’re soft. You’re sloppy! You’re unruly! You’re undisciplined… and I never saw anything look so wonderful in my whole life. Thank you all.” — Gen. Thomas F. Waverly, White Christmas.

The people who refuse to recognize Christ in Christmas definitely have some problems, but they are not the ones who are destroying Christmas. By being so opposed to it, they actually bring more notice to the true meaning of Christmas. We get truly righteous and look at them, and say, hey, you can't do this to Christmas, you heathen!  But those who sentimentalize Christmas and make it all soft and gooey and mushy - they are the ones doing true damage to the message of Christmas. Because it is all so "feel good", the true meaning of Christmas is completely obscured, and we don't even know it's happening.

Let's look at the unvarnished, unsentimentalized true story of that first Christmas.  What is feel good about a heavily pregnant young woman traveling miles and miles on a donkey, only to arrive at her destination, ready to give birth and having no place to go?  What is feel good about this same young woman giving birth in a dirty, smelly, probably rodent and insect infested manger, filled with stinky animals who have no problem just lifting their tails and letting it go wherever they may be standing? What is feel good about a bunch of shepherds, who haven't had a bath in who knows how long, and who live outside with animals and probably have less social skills than your dog or cat, crowding into this already dirty, smelly stable and celebrating this child's birth with his young virgin mother and her husband? The story of the "3 Kings" (I think there were actually more) may seem to be a "feel good" story, but you must understand that Jesus was born to Jewish parents, and these kings were all gentiles.  This would have actually brought shame to them if it had been known to the community.  What is so feel good about King Herod, being so insanely jealous of this young child, believing the child is there to dethrone him, that he orders the murder of innocent baby boys in a quest to kill this one new born babe.  I certainly don't see anything sentimental about Joseph having to flee to a totally foreign country with his young wife and her newborn baby in order to escape from the crazed Herod. 

When all we talk about are candy canes, parties, trees, lights, presents, egg nog, ad nausem, we are doing far more damage to obscure the true message of Christmas than any ACLU group trying to outlaw public mangers.  Elvis Presley singing about a "Blue Christmas without you" isn't going to bring us any closer to the true meaning of Christmas.  All of those beautiful bright lights and the Rockefeller Center tree do nothing to advance the true meaning of Christmas.  And even beloved Bing Crosby, singing about the tree tops glistening and children listening to hear sleigh bells in the snow, does nothing to clarify the true meaning of Christmas. 

What's wrong with feeling good this time of year?  What's wrong with the spirit of gift giving and celebrating and being home with your family?  C'mon, all those lights and trees and store windows are so pretty.  How can that possibly be a bad thing?  What is this "true meaning of Christmas" that I keep alluding to? 

Ah, the answer can be found in, of all places, Peanuts.  Linus gave us the answer when he read from Luke 2:8-14:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them,

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
When you read these words, think about what they really mean.  Don' t think of it as a nice story to tell the kiddies.  Think about the reality behind it.  Most especially think of these words, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."  Is there anything this world needs now more than a Saviour?  Everywhere we look we see only heartache and misery, even among those who are among the materially rich in the world.  They are spritually and emotionally bankrupt, and in some ways suffer more than the very poorest.  War is everwhere.  We are told that the economies of the world are in danger of collapsing, and on and on.

What is "feel good" about the Story of Christmas?  Absolutely everything!!!  As Catholics, we know that because of the sin of our first parents, we are born into the bondage of Satan.  Without a Saviour, we are all doomed to hell.  That is the path on which we are all headed without that little baby born in a stinky, rotten manger in an obscure part of a tiny, unimportant country among a people occupied by their conquerers.  The full meaning is not played out until 33 years later when that baby, grown into a young man, pours out his blood on a cross, but that's for another time. 

That is the true meaning of Christmas, and it has nothing to do with Bing Crosby and White Christmas. 

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