Going through Christmas this year I began to wonder if Christmas has lost it’s power as a symbol and sign in our culture today. Symbols can lose power over time and when this happens there needs to be a reformation of those symbols and signs, or a letting go of them. This is in part why early Quakers did not celebrate Christmas and other holidays, they felt that for whatever reasons it was celebrated, the signs and symbols utilized in that celebration did not connect to the actual reality of Christmas: the incarnation of God.
The history of Christmas has gone through many ebbs and flows. There are times when it has held more meaning and times when it was less important culturally and religiously. Its not just now, its always been like this and for the first 300 years of the early Church they didnt even celebrate it or call it Christmas.
The celebration of Christmas has a history, and has many symbols wrapped up within it. And over time it has picked up many different symbols. Some are helpful and some are distracting to the great story. Some of those symbols are deeply Christian symbols (things out of Scripture) and some of those things are from other non-Christian traditions (the date — celebrations of Saturnalia and Solstice, the tree, holly, and yule log).
And Christians, rightly so, understand the power in celebrating and remembering the story of the baby Jesus. It is our story. And we think it important enough to repeat every year, and remind ourselves just how special this event really was. It is after all a story we believe is powerful enough, transformative enough to completely alter the course of human history. And we believe that it is the kind of story that has historical accuracy. So its not just a really good story like Charles Dickens Christmas Carol, or my personal favorite, the Grinch who stole Christmas, it is history, and it is history that many of us have put our faith in.
And as we remember, we are re-membered back into this body and community. We are reminded that Christmas is only as powerful as the body of Christ continues to live out the reality of that glorious Christmas day in our lives and in our communities.
And this is what we dont want to lose sight of.
This is the thing worth working to keep holy and sacred.
Whatever signs and symbols help us keep Christ at the center, that is what we are to do.
Weve gone many years without a Christmas tree, I could do without most of the presents (though Id like to keep the pendleton wool hat and scarf my wife gave me), the egg nog is good but boy is its fattening, the lights are nice but they sure kill my attempts at living with a smaller footprint, and if youve see my skills at wrapping youd wonder why bother?
All of these things are secondary. And while we enjoy them we should never let these things become so powerful that we lose the deeper symbols and meanings of the Christmas story.
So the question is, has Christmas lost its power for us?
How might we move beyond the symbols to something deeper.
(Flickr Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jgodfrey/3083436819/)