It is a sad fact of life that for those who have no religious attachment to the Christmas holiday, the time between Black Friday and December 25th can go by in a flash of shopping and other seasonal preparations for the upcoming holiday. All this frenetic activity can add to the overall social ennui of the modern age and leave a lot of people feeling physically worn out, emotionally spent, and even downright depressed.
For Christians and anyone else like Charlie Brown who desperately wanted to know “what Christmas is all about”, our time of waiting during Advent is over and Christmastide is here for the next 12 days. While it is supposed to be a time of joy and “glad tidings,” it is also another sad fact of the modern age that the enthusiasm among the faithful has been greatly dampened since that night in 1964 when young Mr. Brown asked his question on national television.
For far too many Christians, the struggle to maintain their fealty to one and only one hallowed “master” has become an ongoing and titanic struggle in a contemporary culture filled with legions of idols and divine pretenders who are not the least bit timid in demanding our allegiance away from our Lord.
Whether it is by appropriating or commercializing the numerous religious Christmas traditions that Christians have engaged in throughout the ages, the secular culture has managed with great success to completely flatten the spiritual landscape of the Christmas season into a generic time of being “nice.”
What's even more galling at times is when the same elements that have turned Christmas into a money-making enterprise end up being the same ones to remind lukewarm Christians, “Remember, Jesus is the reason for the season! And here are some mass-produced signs and buttons to show the world just how Christian you are.”
To this end, as I mentioned in my article about Black Friday, it is time for us as Christians to start stepping back from the ways and means of the secular culture and its strange gods. Time to make a spiritual tactical retreat, so to speak, and like the Maccabees “who were seeking righteousness and justice” to leave behind this flattened spiritual wasteland and head “for the hills” where the teachings and traditions handed onto us by our Lord and his Church are waiting for us. It is time to sharpen our spiritual swords, so as to fight back against forces that have robbed the Christmas season of its true significance. Time for us to start doing a little appropriating of our own and to rededicate the days of Christmastide back to our Lord.
In this regard, I will make one suggestion based on an experience from my past when I was slowly making my way back into the Church.
A Sign Appears in the Heavens
Back in January of 1997 when I was in college, there was a great to-do about the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet that could be seen with the naked eye. Even though it was visible in the city, I wanted to head to the farmlands of my old stomping grounds south of Saint Paul, away from the lights of the metro area so that I could see the comet among the entire panoply of the night sky. So I mentioned it to my 5 year-old son at the time who of course loved road trips, and even invited his mom to come along as well (after all, she had a car and I didn't), and off we went.
There on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, we could see the comet and all the rest of the stars and constellations like Orion and the Little Dipper. As we gazed at the comet through a pair of binoculars (and no we didn't see any UFO hiding in the comet's tail as some suicidal cult did at the time), I begin to think about how some of the stars we were seeing were the same stars that the shepherds who were tending their flocks outside of Bethlehem two millennia ago on the “night of our dear Savior's birth” had seen as well.
Which coincidentally enough was one of the tracks on a CD I had recently bought and brought along called Merry Axemas which was a compilation of Christmas songs played by various legendary rock guitarists. Thus, while we all enjoyed the winter night sky, “Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night)” by Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora was playing in the background. While my son's mother chided me that Sambora's “hard” take on this classic Christmas carol was “just noise” and that “heavy metal and Christmas don't mix,” in this particular case I had and still do disagree.
Aside from showing how a raucous musical style can at the right time and place be repurposed to express something sacred, since that night I have come to see how Sambora's distorted and shrill notes are a kind of sonorous redolent which brings to mind how a fallen and dislocated nature can, in moments of lucidity, be moved like Charlie Brown to cry out for help, no matter how clumsily that longing is expressed.
This is what the song means when it says, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” The worth of the soul which is felt is of course the realization that the same majesty and power of God that created all of time and space as well as the gift of life, is the same majesty and power that humbled himself to become one of us so that each and every human soul should not perish.
It is this immense love that we are celebrating this Christmastide, starting with the Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord. So my challenge for you on this holy night is to simply STOP. Stop for a moment and take a little time tonight or on some other night during the next 12 days to go outside. If you can I certainly would encourage you to head for “the hills” outside of the city lights, but the important thing is to simply take the time to go outside and look up at the stars in the night sky.
Look heavenwards and realize the immensity of all of God's creation and how miniscule the powers and principalities of the secular world are in comparison. Then realize how despite all that God still loves us enough to come to our homes, so that he can show us the way to our ultimate home. As G.K. Chesterton said in his poem “The House of Christmas,”
“Only where He was homeless, are you and I at home; We have hands that fashion and heads that know, but our hearts we lost - how long ago! In a place no chart nor ship can show
under the sky's dome.”
So please take time this Christmastide to step back from the world and then take one step closer to our Lord. Pretty soon you will get better and better at it, and even though God's grace is always sufficient, if you need a little musical motivation along the way, well... a little Richie Sambora wouldn't hurt (too much at least).
From all of us here at the Everyman, we thank you for your continued patronage and prayers for us to keep bringing you thoughtful content in a mad, mad world. We wish you, your family, and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas!