“The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained;
they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions;
they will continue to do it; and someday suddenly wake up and discover why.”
-Chesterton “On Christmas,” Generally Speaking
The Conundrum of American Christmas Lover
American Christians today are caught in some perplexing cultural transitions. On one hand, we are sliding into a more acute post-Christian era and on the other, we are still connected to practices and traditions that arose from our religious ancestors and yet have grown ignorant of the very roots of our past.
The secularists in our day mount a historical criticism game of checkers when they jump over the Christianization of our pagan Anglo-Saxon forefathers, appealing to the practices and beliefs of our pre-Christian past in order to invalidate or discredit our traditions.
Hyper-Christian fundamentalists seek to put an end to Christmas or at least its American forms, in the spirit of the early American Puritans, who made it illegal in order to try to sever protestant pietism from the ‘Christ-Mass’ of Catholicism and it’s customs of unbridled festive revelry.
The Winter Holiday lover who happens to convert to Christianity in adulthood will be surprised to discover they’ve been unintentional devil worshippers. Their cherished childhood remembrances of jolly old Saint Nick will be dashed on the rocks of religious realism that exposes Santa as a relettered version of the word Satan.
The newly converted will be forced to endure hours of anti-Christmas sermons, pages of anti-holiday pontifications in print and pious, icy yuletide polemics. The sensitive Christian conscience is forced to confess why they hold dear any of the supposed irrefutable proofs of the devilish roots of Christmas trees, candles, holiday hams and the nefarious practices of gift giving, eggnog drinking and heavens forbid anyone believes in talking snowmen, toy making elves or goblin-like Grinches in green!
The Triumph of Christ over Odin
We are a people with historical religious amnesia. We have forgotten that Christ’s gospel conquered Odin, Thor, and Freya and that all the practices of their religion were struck down, swallowed up, purged or reimagined in Christian witness and worship. We forget that the death of God’s Son put an end to the perpetual human sacrifice system. The Prince of Peace quenched the warrior’s raids that compelled them to try to earn their way into Valhalla through violence, battle, and blood.
Instead, we’ve been duped by persnickety, conscience-binding legalists that demand that all the saints should bow to the scruples and trifles of the churchmen overlords.
We have allowed the great achievements of the past martyrs and missionaries of Christ to be denigrated, dismissed and denounced without a rigorous and righteous rebuttal by men and women who understand that the shadows of truth have been visible among all people. God intends…“that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).
Christ is the great Light of Heaven that has cast His glory across the ages of time in the minds and hearts of humanity no matter what religious attempts have been made to understand, worship and connect with the God or gods, whom the heart perceives are behind all that we see, hear and experience.
We are the heralds of the good news that brings Great Joy! Christians come to explain the truth, to reveal what has been fully revealed, to connect the dots and fill in the gaps. We are bridge builders who seek to help people come to God. We believe that He has been at work in a people or a person before we ever arrive. We are introducing the worshipper of the idol to their unknown god, to the One whom they have yet to come to know.
It is in this spirit that our ancestors sought to connect or retell the stories of people to the great story that makes sense of all others.
What Story Will You Tell?
A truth that the old ‘Boar’s Head Carol and Feasts’ spoke of:
“Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Who lists may in the mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery.”
This Christmas, I hope that you and your family will commit to discovering the Story within the stories. That you will experience the joy of the good news in all your merriment with family, friends and those you welcome around your table and heart.
I pray that you will be a people that can share the stories of the past and the present within the greatest story ever told. That your homes will be candles set in dark rooms, like cities of light on hills for all to see and stream towards in search of all that is true, good and beautiful.
May the Gospel story of Jesus inform, enchant and encompass all that you do for those you love and those who need to be loved in these desperate and lonely times. Let your lives be ones that witness to the saving joy of a Scrooge turned to a Saint and may the Star of the Son of David never cease shining over your welcoming, feasting, generous, song-filled and tale-telling…Christan homes.