October 19, 2017

Another Look: Why do we love this season?

Christmas Star small

Why do we love this season?

I would suggest that aesthetics have much to do with the answer to that question.

Advent and Christmas are made sensible to us by means of the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch at this time of year.

Spiritual truth comes out of the closet of the abstract and makes itself real to us through our bodily experiences during the holidays.

  • God in heaven becomes incarnate in Bethlehem.
  • We shiver at the chill. And grow warm by the fire.
  • We smell the pungent dung of the stable. And fragrant bows from the pine.
  • The song of the angels fills our ears. And the voices of children.
  • Our gaze is transfixed upon a newborn Baby.
  • We relish the special feasts we share with one another, as the Baby suckles his Mother’s breast.
  • Gifts are exchanged, hand to hand, paper ripped open and flung aside amid squeals of delight and smiles, tears, hugs, acknowledged later with handwritten thank-you notes.

It is not simply the Christmas “spirit” but the lived experiences of Christmas that we treasure.

All of our traditions and practices, the idiosyncratic celebrations of our families, and the special events in our churches and schools and communities take place in space and time in the lives of boys and girls and men and women of flesh and blood who hold up their candles in the darkness and await the moment when “the dawn from on high will break upon us.”

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss. 

• Christina Rosetti

Hear this marvelous testimony from Eric Gill. Don’t get sidetracked and focus only on the specific path he chose (Catholicism), but hear the larger message he brings:

I became a Catholic because I fell in love with the truth. And love is an experience. I saw. I heard. I felt. I tasted. I touched. And that is what lovers do.

Oh, that we, in all our faith traditions, might learn this. There is no “spiritual” faith.

What God has given us is bodies, by which we receive his gifts. The path leads from the outside in, and not vice versa. To reach our hearts, he took on flesh.

We instinctively know this at Christmas.

My prayer is that we will know it in all the gracious seasons of life.

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says:

    “What God has given us is bodies, by which we receive his gifts. The path leads from the outside in, and not vice versa. To reach our hearts, he took on flesh.

    “We instinctively know this at Christmas.”

    Yes. Yes. Amen.

  2. The spiritual took on flesh and it was this that filled the flesh it has always been this way. It is His breath that makes divine my mortal body and gives it life from the inside and when I die the light will leave my eyes. He took on flesh to free me from it. This was His walk to the cross and the reason He came. Being post modern some of these statements only say to me prove it.

    Christmas to me has only become a pain in my ass. So many people pulling and pushing to get things done before hand. Yesterday as blood spotted the floor from my cracked and wore out hands I realized it has always been this way for me. I am always relieved when it is over and the time on the mountain talking to Him alone is the best time I have on Christmas day. So far the only day of the year I haven’t worked.

  3. The spirit filled the womb from the inside. This was the creation of Jesus.

  4. To reach our hearts, he took on flesh.

    The idea that God cannot reach our hearts from the inside seems problematic to me. I don’t see any opposition or antimony between spirit and body; I don’t think of God as lacking physicality, or being outside our physical bodies trying to get in.

    Christmas is a physical reality, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to observe or participate in all the trapping of the annual Christmas celebration to “have the spirit of Christmas.” The spirit of a thing is that part of it which gives it identity; physicality is an aspect of that identity, though it would be foolish to mistake a skin cell for a heart. God became human at Christmas, and if we respect human bodies, our own and those of others, out of regard for Jesus’ incarnation, if we are compassionate and loving to human beings because we see in them the presence of the incarnate Christ, then we are most definitely celebrating Christmas, whether we put up a tree or not, whether we have a white or blue Christmas.

    • Good points. It’s interesting to me that Christmas is also one of those times when the church seems to “get it” when it comes to tending to the poor and needy.

      • The Church seems to get it, but then, so does the non-Church. It would be difficult to distinguish the increased good will of the Church toward those in need from that of the non-Christian world. Which came first? Does one cause the other? Probably doesn’t matter.

        • Christiane says:

          an awful lot of the ‘non-Churched’ world is capable of being more ‘of Church’ than we realize or they realize

          . . . there’s something about Christmas that makes it ‘okay’ for this to happen 🙂

    • I don’t see any opposition or antimony between spirit and body; I don’t think of God as lacking physicality, or being outside our physical bodies trying to get in.

      Oh, there’s no doubt of that. He did endow physical elements, bread and wine, as means of grace, after all. The spirit and body are intertwined; that is why we have hope not in a disembodied spirit living in the presence of God for all eternity but our hope lies in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

      • I guess what I mean to say is that I believe physicality is, and has always been, an aspect of God’s identity. If that’s true, then God’s physicality existed prior to Jesus’ incarnation; the distinctive and new thing about the incarnation of Jesus is that in it God assumed human spiritual and physical nature.

  5. It’s been fluctuating between 30 and 45 degrees in Minnesota all month. I could get used to this green Christmas if we’d only get some sunlight during the day.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      +1

      Only 6 more days until the Winter Solstice, and here in Grand Rapids (MI) we are still snow free with green grass; almost to the half way point.

      I’m dreaming of a Green Christmas, just like the one I saw in when I was on Maui.

    • It was in the 50s and 60s this week in south central PA. I like the warmth and absence of inclement wintry weather, but I’m afraid it augurs a new era when the Jersey shore will be inundated and succeeded by Pennsy shore.

  6. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    This is spot of philosophically/theologically for me. Christmas and Halloween are holidays of the flesh, where ideas and incarnality naturally feel as though they fit together.

    Aside from ‘deep’ reasons Halloween and Christmas feel like the two remaining True Holidays, which are for everyone and encompass as near to everyone as any holiday ever does. The level of participation in these two holidays is off the charts compared to almost anything else. Thanksgiving is an inward facing family holiday, the The Monday Holidays are friends-or-families holidays. The 4th of July is a argumentative and divisive holiday[1] that strains the fabric of the neighborhood. But Christmas and Halloween see nearly everyone out-and-about, just looking to enjoy themselves.

    [*1] The scheduling is also awful; why can’t we pin Independence Day to the nearest Monday or Friday? A holiday on Wednesday, which most of the people going to work the next day is awful.

  7. Randy Thompson says:

    Certainly more than the rest of the year, Christmas is a time of smells, sights, and sounds.

    The smell of balsam trees and baking cookies
    The sight of colored lights, store windows, and extravagant inflated snowmen (or reindeer or Santa Clauses and, yes, even Christmas dinosaurs, as witnessed at our local Walmart).
    The sounds of music deeply embedded into this time of year, ranging from centuries old carols to generic shopping-in-cold weather themes, to fun piffle about red-nosed reindeers, snowmen that come alive, and rocking around the Christmas tree and even to truly dopey wishes to have a holly, jolly Christmas.

    Except for the Christmas carols, none of these smells, sights and sounds have much of anything to do with the birth of Christ. But, you can say the same thing about birthday cakes, balloons, party hats, and pin the tail on the donkey games having nothing to do with someone’s birth. Party hats and balloons and other such things are simply fun and festive, setting off the day of one’s birth from all other days. What do fireworks have to do with American independence? Nothing! But, how much less fun the 4th of July would be without them.

    When you get right down to it, most of what we do in celebrating something is irrelevant to what it is we’re celebrating, or why we’re celebrating it.

    When a baby is born, mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins and family friends rejoice and are happy. Often, their mode of rejoicing is extravagant and silly. But, who cares?

    Christ is born, whether or not on December 25, who cares. Yes, red-nose reindeers and candy canes have nothing to do with it. But, who cares? They are as much a part of the season of Christ’s birth as a birthday cake is part of each of our birthdays. All these little sights, smells and sounds set off this time of year from all others. And, as secularized as our socio-political elites want our culture to be, each candy cane and each lit-up, inflated Santa Claus stirs deep memories in even the dullest minds and deadest hearts and reminds us that this time is sacred time, different from all other times.

    • Christiane says:

      “And, as secularized as our socio-political elites want our culture to be, each candy cane and each lit-up, inflated Santa Claus stirs deep memories in even the dullest minds and deadest hearts and reminds us that this time is sacred time, different from all other times.”

      RANDY THOMPSON, this !

  8. Adam sez “Only 6 more days until the Winter Solstice . . .”

    Now that’s good tidings. Tied to something real and observable that affects me and others in a life and death way and that truly happens only once a year. And every year you don’t know for sure that the sun is indeed going to slow it’s downward slide and come to a stop and slowly pick up speed in the other direction, toward light and warmth and life for all. Not easy to track in a Michigan winter, but I’m guessing that if you were following it with sticks stuck in the ground somewhere with clear skies, it would probably not be until around Christmas that you could say for sure that we had reason to celebrate. We pay no attention to this in the Western world, perhaps not even in the Hopi world any more. I’m guessing all those old guys who prayed the sun back for the rest of us every year are likely all dead by now. Maybe some younger mavericks hanging on. Of course if I lived in Australia or NZ, I would have to adjust the metaphor.

    From time to time I ask myself, just exactly who does this celebration of Christmas benefit? I think there are some obvious answers, but in the Christian world I marvel at the concept that a lot of folks apparently only think about the meaning of God With Us once a year. Seems to me something that should be front and center 24/7/365, but then what do I know.

    If the point of the church season of Advent is waiting, then I’m with W in waiting for this season to be over. Don’t mind others celebrating as they see fit, but I chafe when the supposed blessing “Be of Good Cheer!” turns into the eleventh and most important commandment. A lot of people struggle with this time of year and the enforced jollity only makes it worse. I might attend a Christmas eve service at a local church I can walk to, I may wish you Merry Christmas, I might spend Christmas day with Jesus listening to Christmas music, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Seems to me something that should be front and center 24/7/365

      I believe Holy days, Holidays, the Church Calendar, et al… are a HEALTHY recognition of the fact they we CANNOT hold something as preeminent 24/7/365. It is too much to ask. We must deal with getting the crops in, getting the annual budget done, the projects at work done, the new roof on the house, elections, angry neighbors, storms, the car breaking down, the bus being on detour… And then we get home and pass out.

      I remember the Evangelical all to put always hold a laundry list of priorities as preeminent 24/7/365. It was exhausting and ultimately counter-productive. To make Joy into an Obligation is an error of the first-order.

      > We pay no attention to this [the solar cycle] in the Western world

      Mmmmm…. maybe, maybe not. I think it is making a comeback. There is certainly a trend of solstice posters and signs popping up in places like the neighborhood pub.

      • That’s encouraging about your signs of solstice. Making Joy into an Obligation is what makes Christmas difficult for me. Agreed that holding a laundry list of things preeminent 24/7 is a recipe for collapse. On the other hand, in my understanding, that “thing” that Paul called praying without ceasing and I might call mindfulness can be done 24/7 if you get good at it, and done while making tents or dealing with a flooded basement or a leaking roof or crying children or whatever else life sends our way. I’m not there yet, not by a long shot. Working at it tho.