Christmas, Bah, Humbug
When Charles Dickens wrote 'A Christmas Carol', (I think that's the name of the story) he was considered a major factor in the revitalization of the Christmas tradition. That tradition and the underlying Christmas spirit is something that is evident even in the 1990's. For a few minutes, however, lets look at this Christmas tradition in the light of another story, the story of God's love for the world through Jesus birth, life and ministry. And since Scrooge is the central figure in the Christmas tradition, it couldn't be more appropriate to look at his experience in this context.
In the Christmas Carol, Dickens characterized the town as a friendly neighborhood, caught up in the Christmas spirit, buying gifts, preparing meals and such, and Scrooge wouldn't get involved. While Scrooge was characterized as a mizer, there are other similarities that many people characterize as "Scrooge-ish", the first being his uninvolvement and non-conformance.
Jesus said, "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonand a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matthew 11:17-19)
Jesus and John choose not to conform and in both cases they were criticized. In the Christmas season, if we choose not to indulge in the practices of the day, we are likely to be characterized as a scrooge. If we are 'right' in what we do, though, we will be justified. In fact, Jesus statement might be better described as a encouragement to justify our wisdom by our actions. Whether you simply ignore the practices of those around you or utterly defy them, your actions will justify as surely as your conformance will nullify your convictions.
James writes, "You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war. Youd do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not recieve, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on you passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:1-4)
John teaches, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him." (John 2:15)
This has to be the biggest mystery of the Christmas spirit. While the Bible repeatedly warns against materialism, covetousness, and general love for the world and the things of the world, materialism is CENTRAL to the Christmas spirit and to be non-materialistic is to be anti-Christmas. For all kinds of businesses, success or failure is dependent upon how well they can capitalize on the Christmas season.
Just as I'm criticised for my non-participation in the gluttony of the season and the carousing of the celebration, I've been called a scrooge because I won't buy a lot of presents, as if careless giving will justify me. Indeed, that may give others a certain feeling of self-righteousness, of doing what's right, it's a heresy of the worst sorts. This Christmas spirit would characterize anyone as a scrooge that did as scripture commands. This Christmas spirit totally contradicts the teachings of the Bible.
Giving - for recognition
Near the end of His ministry, "Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees ... do all their deeds to be seen by men" (Matthew 23:1,5)
Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!" (Matthew 23:23-24)
The Christmas season is a crucial time of year, not only for businesses, but also for charity. Taking advantage of the "spirit", all the major charities are asking for donations, particularly from businesses, and from what I can tell, it seems most are reluctant to decline. Part of it is obviously due to the required conformance to the spirit, but another part is the emphasis on showing appreciation for this or that. Traditionally, businesses will give employees bonuses and such at this time.
On a personal level, there is a totally unreasonable amount of anxiety about what to get someone for Christmas, whether they will like it, whether they get what they want and how we perform as Christmas shoppers and givers. Most of the anxiety concerns how we look; cheap, extravagant or whatever. As adults, the emphasis is not only on the materialistic side, but how we are SEEN by others.
Of course, I can't leave out the roll of Santa Claus in the development of the Christmas tradition. While he was a good person in reality, by giving gifts to children, the Christmas tradition that involves Santa Claus is one of the most deceptive ones. The deception only begins at homes and stores when children are deceived into believing in a Santa Claus, it goes on to stimulate the basic self-centered nature of children and develop a proper materialistic attitude, complete with brand names.
If it were not so sad, it would be humorous to hear people try to justify this deception. It is a basic characteristic of humanist philosophy that right or wrong is subjective. What this deception points out is that the Christmas tradition has nothing to do with Jesus, and is in contrast to what he would teach. Just as sin is a part of our nature, deception is a part of our tradition.
This continuance of the Christmas tradition of deception is one of the things that demands conformance, and has no other reasoning behind it. In Zechariah's praise of the baby Jesus, he describes part of his ministry as "to give light to those who sit in darkness". (Luke 1:79) John described Jesus, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." (John 1:4)
"And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God." (John 3:19-21)
The Santa Clause tradition (as opposed to Saint Nicholas), though he is characterized as the jolly bearer of gifts, is one of the worst practices of Christmas. It's not just because the deception keeps children and adults in darkness, but the characterization focuses their attention on what they can GET from him, and what a generous guy he is. In the way children describe their Christmas wishes, it's not too difficult to see how they prefer to talk about Santa Clause because of what they are getting. Jesus might be mentioned but he didn't and doesn't really do anything. Ask 'em.
Christmas - a time for taking
All the presents, all the stuff, all the caring, how could one not get into the spirit? One of the saddest parts of the Christmas spirit is the merchandizing. Retail businesses depend on the Christmas rush, but during the rush there are many who are led away with the deception of Christmas in such a way that they and their families suffer from their foolish purchases. All the hype, all the expectations, and all the demands leave many deep in debt. One can argue that it is their fault, and not the fault of the stores or the advertisers. One could, but that is the very point. For merchandizers, Christmas is a time of TAKING money from people, whether they can afford it or not; whether the thing purchases is needed or not.
This is probably one of the big reasons the scrooge story is so popular and gets so much sponsorship when it's presented. When Scrooge wakes from his dreams, the first thing he does is hit the stores. If you don't shop, you're considered a scrooge.
This merchandizing was what surrounded the worship at the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus came and so angered him. Not only did they take advantage of the people who came to worship and offer sacrifices during the Holy days, they totally disregarded the sanctity of the temple, the house of worship. You've probably heard this before, but close your eyes and visualize Jesus when he drove the merchandizers from the temple.
"In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, our of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables." (John 2:14-16)
I wonder what they called Jesus when he did that. Probably something besides a scrooge.
Christmas, . There are those who do good things around Christmas for the attention, but there are also many who sincerely get the "spirit" and help people, volunteer with charities, consider the needs of others. This is good, but this is like being a Christian for a day. It's not like committing a life to Christ and trying to follow his teachings as principles of living. It's just something to make us FEEL better.
Christmas is like the rituals that surround the church worship at this time of year. The rituals symbolize things, or so they say. This annual ritualizing, however, is really more of an activity that makes us feel more religious and requires much less active and ongoing involvement.
Just as Catholicism and much of protestantism segregates the reality of Christian conscience and the other parts of life, so the Christmas spirit stimulates the a seasonal devotion we know as Christmas. Ignorant and spiritually lazy many would rather adopt a numbing "church" system, rather than acknowledge our accountability to a personal God. Rituals, whether Christmas or sunday mass, only makes us FEEL better. They have very little to do with the condition of our heart, peace with God, peace with ourself.
We don't get this picture in Scrooge's story, but in reality, when Christmas is over, when church is over, it's business as usual, with God (the creator of the universe) back in his box (in a corner of our mind) along with the justice, mercy, caring that supposedly accompanied the spirit.
Christmas - an excuse for giving
"Christmas is a time when we give gifts to others, because God gave his Son to us." We hear various forms of this reasoning every year as sort of a justification for Christmas. We've all heard this so much that we don't even think about it. We just accept it, when in fact, that is not at all the reason we buy and give gifts. It's just an excuse.
How can I say this so easily? For one, the worshipful attitude at the first Christmas has very little in it that resembles Christmas today. True, we do mix in a few Christmas carols in with our other activities, but the Christmas of today is more like the people of the Christmas story who were totally ignorant of Christ's birth and could care less about God, God's Son or His sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. The people hustled and bustled about their worldly affairs just as they do today. The only difference today is the social acceptance of Christmas as a time of celebration. Christmas of today is more of a blasphemy.
Is what I'm saying going to make much difference? For some of the few who think about it, it could, but for most, probably not. The Christmas heresy isn't the problem. The problem is in the hearts of people, the blindness of their minds, their own passions for the world and its pleasures. Christmas is just a symptom.
The only solution is Jesus and a personal relationship with Him. Without Him, we are like those caught up in the hustle and bustle of a world ignorant of God, aimlessly wandering like sheep without a shepherd. It doesn't matter if you someone celebrate Christmas, but if Jesus doesn't matter in your life throughout the year, don't fool yourself into thinking this is somehow a holy time of year. It can only be holy to you, when you are holy; when you have set yourself apart for Jesus; when you take a whip to the corruption in the temple of your heart.
When you do, try the really hard question, what really is the significance of Jesus' birth? No, the Bible doesn't say he was a gift to us. That's the Christmas heresy!
"Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of Dog, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of the men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." (Phillipians 2:5-8)