I am well-aware that we are still in the season of Advent, and clearly a time of preparation and waiting has not taken hold in the popular culture. Hard to imagine, I know.
You can expect Christmas trees and those puffy Santa and snowmen blow-up yard dolls to appear in the stores in August. Soon after, the Salvation Army kettles show up at storefronts (and drop a few dollars in - they do a great job of caring for the least of these). And then, like clockwork, the beleaguered voices shouting about the war on Christmas appear. They argue that store clerks wishing us, "Happy Holidays!" is tantamount to saying Jesus really did mean all that stuff about caring for the poor and forgiving our enemies and we should follow it to the letter. When Target and Wal-Mart put up signs for "Holiday Sales," those special interest groups have won, because in this country, we have "Christmas Sales." And don't even get them started about the lack of a nativity on the courthouse square. The next thing you know, women will want the vote.
We have, according to several newspaper articles and never-ending news shows, a war on Christmas by the liberal agenda that apparently runs this country.
I obviously missed the declaration. I miss many things, so the governmental decree that often follows declarations of war may still be in the pile of unopened mail and catalouges on my table. I'm sure it tells me that as a priest, I can no longer celebrate Advent or Christmas services. The quiet holiness of singing, "Silent Night" would certainly be illegal in a war on Christmas. Our Advent Lessons and Carols service this Sunday will likely result in a mass arrest in this war on Christmas.
My neighbors missed the war declaration, too. They have so many Christmas decorations, including a blow-up Santa kneeling at the manger, that no official authorities could miss the display (although the tasteful decor committee may have). I feel certain planes use the lights as a back-up landing guide. Maybe soon the authorities will show up and tell them to take it all down, because there is a war on Christmas. Until then, I'll wear my sunglasses at night and enjoy the scene.
And Target and Wal-Mart's signs for holiday sales instead of Christmas sales? I'm quite fine with that. The last I read in the Gospels, Jesus charged humans to go forth and proclaim the love of God to all people. I'm unclear about how roll-back prices may do this. The only Christmas sale I want to attend is God's grace given away freely to all at your local houses of worship.
I fear that there may be a war on Christmas, although not by any political groups. Maybe the war is one of complacency, that we Christians expect the world to proclaim the Incarnation through nativity displays and greetings as we pass in the street. That's so much easier, isn't it? We don't have to think to much about what Christmas really means to us as Christian communities. We can decorate and shop for gifts and send cards, but what about reflecting on why the Incarnation was such a big deal? Sure, it's not a light-weight topic, but why does God Incarnate matter?
At least on some level, God Incarnate reminds us that being human is a lovely, fabulous thing. That our abilities to touch and see and smell and simply be human is something holy. Theologians and mystics have reflected on the Incarnation for centuries. And this beauty of humanity is a gift to all people, not just the ones we'd invite to our tea parties.
As beautiful as some creches may be, they are no where near as lovely as that moment where a person intimately knows s/he is a beloved child of God and that s/he is enough. As lovely as, "Merry Christmas," sounds, unless it's followed by an act of seeing the other as a part of the Body of Christ, it remains a hollow greeting. As fun as all those groovy Rankin-Bass Christmas shows are, they simply cannot capture the story of God loving humanity so much that God became one of us to remind us that we are spectacular in our creatureliness.
The deep truth of Christmas is not found in displays or sales or cartoons or political agendas. Perhaps it is found in a greeting, the one of the angels, who, after scaring the shepherds into next week, said to the world, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
Don't be scared, because God is still here, for all people.
So sing loudly and decorate obnoxiously and wish people, "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Holidays!" or "Joyful Festivus!" or that the force be with them. And let all of that joy spring forth from the deep, interior knowledge of God With Us. All of us. Forever.
And don't forget the Christmas Sale signs for your churches.