Cristes maese and the American Soul

So today Emily and I worked my last day of work for about 10 days. We are ready for a break, who isn’t really. It seems like our world is built around a “dog eat dog” mentality – this is nothing new, the trouble is, is when it carries over into our more sacred times of the year. Earlier in the year I posted about Halloween and how it had the possibility of being viewed sacramentally. Granted Halloween requires more creative thinking to view it sacramentally than Christmas or Easter does – or so it seems at least on the surface.

Then again, I am not so sure its all that easy to take part in Christmas sacramentally either. While I was stocking textbooks earlier today I heard an automobile driver lay on his/her horn for more than a block out of frustration and impatience, we received a nasty email from a very impatient professor yesterday concerning the store’s policies, and we had a gentleman come into the store last night and repeatedly insult, and lie to one of our clerks about being faculty so he could receive the faculty discount. Tis the season.

The Beatles have a great song,

I, Me, Mine
from their famous album – “Let it Be.” I listened to it today during lunch, I was filled with sorrow and a bit of despair when I realized this Christmas we Americans are singing.

All thru’ the day I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
All thru’ the night I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Now they’re frightened of leaving it
Ev’ryone’s weaving it,
Coming on strong all the time,
All thru’ the day I me mine.

I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine.

All I can hear I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Even those tears I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
No-one’s frightened of playing it
Ev’ryone’s saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All thru’ the day I me mine.

I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine.

All I can hear I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Even those tears I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
No-one’s frightened of playing it
Ev’ryone’s saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All thru’ your life I me mine.

The culture surrounding Christmas has undermined the possible sacrament that it could be. We are so distracted by gifts, we either pride ourselves in how much money and time we put into a gift, or we pride ourselves in how little we spent and how “we really don’t care much for gifts.” I know – I am guilty, I love gifts…I love to know that people are thinking of me, have put some thought into trying to figure out who this “Wess really is” and “what he might like.” I also understand how giving gifts became so important.

First – and rightly so, it is because Christmas signifies gift giving, Christ the Messiah – the Son of God was given to us as a gift from Yahweh – to save us from our sins, our pride, our distractions away from God.

Secondly – the wise guys brought gifts to the babe in the manger to show their reverence to him who came.

Thirdly – Gifts more negatively have become so important because they cost something, namely cash. And cash is what makes America go ’round.

For the first two – we take part in some of the sacrament of Christmas when we too give gifts to those we love (who doesn’t like to give a gift to our loved ones). But it is the third part that has spoiled and so undercuts much of what happens – so much so that all good-tidings, brotherly and sisterly love, and joy are succumb to marketing, greed and a last minute gift-rush that leaves all the Christ-like virtues behind the shed in the backyard.

But what about that babe?
Who flipped worlds upside down. How does the babe flip Christmas around this year or any year for that matter?

For one thing – there are no gifts to be given or received that has not already be given to us. What this means is that the significance of Gift giving must be lowered – for we have already received our gift this year – a babe wrapped in a manger.

But to leave it here is to still put all the attention on gifts…that is gifts that are centered on ourselves.

There are other themes that must be reminded in the Christmas story.

  • A teenage virgin mother who faces the fear and scandal of having a child out of wedlock.
  • God places his trust in a Galilean woman (a very lowly position in society) to carry out his mission.
  • It is the powerless and social outcasts who assemble to celebrate the birth of a homeless child.
  • Hope comes through peace not power, prestige, riches or any other expected source of good.
  • Yahweh has his people in mind, he wishes to redeem creation.
  • Christmas also reminds us that we are, as Christians, different from the rest of the world because we believe in a baby to save the world. This foolishness, this scandal of the Christmas story is to also placed into the center of our thinking about Christ’s birth. It is God himself who continues to shatter our expectations while still offering hope and joy to the world.

Simeon says,
“This Child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.