– – Merchants, May you make the Yuletide Paaay – Tom Lehrer.
Of all the curious phenomena that I observe in our schizophrenic society none is more amusing than the modern attitude toward Christmas.
As I have observed on more than one occasion, Christmas is Christ’s Mass, the celebration of the Incarnation of God as Man, and the first act of the re-creation of the fallen world by Christ. That’s the anchor, and we’ll come back to it in a bit.
First off, the nuttier Christian haters really don’t need to worry. The destruction of Christmas is taking place whether or not they help it along. There is nothing that the anti-Christian crowd can do that is as damaging to Christians as that which so many have done to themselves. Oh, you don’t think that they are Christian haters? They are really atheists and object to any religion? Could be, but by my experience they do persecute Christians and do not go after Moslems. I grant you that some of the more ignorant and self-righteous fringies who claim to be Christian can be pretty obnoxious, but there is some genuine concern that their fellow man experience salvation. The more poisonous aspects of their behavior are purely human cussedness and cannot be justified by any formal Christian theology. This is not true of the Moslems, where killing unbelievers, rape, and slavery are all considered virtuous behavior and earn credits toward paradise. I don’t see the “no religion” crowd tackling them. The idiots are anti-Christian, not anti-religion, or perhaps they just lack the guts to really follow their mouths with true action. Or, more likely, this shows their true stripes – just anti-Christian. Note that the majority of those who want no public Christian displays also do not want us to win in the current war with Islam. There is a common and current delusion that the “terrorists” are just extremists comparable to some of our own extremists. Not so. The extremists that come from the Christian societies have to roll their own theology. It is not and never has been part of the central Christian dogma that hatred is good. “Love your enemies” is Christian, not Moslem. (“Love your enemies – and drive ‘em nuts” is Dave Gardner). What we of the modern world think of as Moslem extremism is, in fact, part of their central belief system. Those who think differently have not studied Islam. The greatest example of the big lie in the modern era is not Hitler and the Nazis. It is that the Moslem world has managed to portray itself as a peaceful religion. Bull. Study the real deal and you will find that death to unbelievers is at the core, along with rape and slavery. The Moslems have killed and enslaved more people than any other group in the history of the world. (Try 270,000,000 dead from Moslem murders). Contrariwise, there is no way that anyone can justify murder, rape, and slavery in Christian doctrine. If the anti-religion nuts were really true to their statements they would run all the Moslems out of this country before they even started worrying about Christians.
Even without the leftist attacks on Christmas we are in trouble. The current commercialization of Christmas has done more damage than all the atheists that ever were. The current orgy of consumerism in December is a pagan midwinter festival that has absolutely nothing to do with the incarnation of Christ. The Christmas tree is a pagan leftover from the Germans. This gift-giving extravaganza is more damaging to Christ’s Mass than having the pagans persecute us. Also, you might think about the huge number of Christmas musical pieces that have nothing to do with Christ. Dashing through the snow, silver bells, snowmen and all the rest of that sort of dreck have nothing to do with the Birth of Our Lord.
The other destructive force is so much more subtle and insidious that most Christians don’t have a clue that it is dangerous. I speak of the Western view of Christmas as exemplified in “Silent Night”. The “sweet baby” Jesus figure so beloved by the West has little to do with the mighty God who is Master of the Universe. The Eastern Church says that the Womb of Mary is “more spacious than the Heavens” for she contained the Master and Creator of the Heavens for 9 months within her body. The “Holy Family:” Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus is not the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit that should be the focus of the Christian. It is easy to be seduced by the “sweetness” of the Holy Family imagery and to forget that the Christian is called to constant and intense spiritual warfare. In the imagery of the West, the paintings depicting the birth of Christ are usually extremely romantic in style. All kinds of sentimental feelings are displayed and evoked by these tender images. Contrast that with Eastern Iconography. The Incarnation icons are usually rather stark and frequently busy with details all around the borders that depict the various things associated with the birth. Unless it is an 18th century icon with a great deal of Italian influence, that is. Then you may see some Western romanticism, but not otherwise.
Herself sez: Here is an excellent example of the Orthodox Icon of the Nativity of Our Lord:
The Theotokos (The Mother of God) lies quietly after giving birth. She is looking worriedly at Joseph (lower left corner) who is being tempted by Satan in the guise of an old man. (We know that Satan can take many guises – from the voices of doubt in our minds, to the temptations of secular life, to simply missing our prayers.) In the lower right corner, the midwives bathe the Infant in wonder that He was born without violating His Mother’s Virginity. Above the midwives, a shepherd plays a pipe. On the left of the Theotokos and Christ, we see the Magi riding on beautiful horses and following the mystery of the Star. Above them, the Angels sing. Over all is seen the Star of the Nativity. In the upper right corner, the angels announce to stunned shepherds that Christ is Born! All around, we can see the mountains clapping their hands (“let the floods clap their hands and let the hills be joyful together.” [Psalms 98:8]) In the very center of the Icon is Christ, bathed in the Light of the Star, lying in the manger. The animals gaze at Him in wonder. As according to Orthodox tradition, the Nativity of Christ is depicted in a cave, not in a building.
As Christians, we should indeed fight against the forces that would make us second-class citizens. But we should also remember that salvation and spiritual growth is more important than comfort. It may be easier for us to live the Christian life of prayer, fasting, and struggle without all the external distractions of the “Merry Merchants”. Perhaps we should think about ignoring the whole mess of public extravaganza and concentrate on the aspects of salvation that we are offered.
If we look at the ads we see silly people asking snotty children if they believe in Santa Claus and the poisonous little examples of consumerism replying that they believe in cashmere. I think that we should abandon that whole trail to the people who think of it as having some importance. There is no salvation in Santa Claus or in cashmere. We know that our Salvation is in and through Christ, and that to grow in Him daily through the Holy Spirit is our belief and our goal.
Let the merchants have the pagan mid-winter festival. Let the great unwashed have their festival without Christian symbols, for we know that only in Christ are we participating in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christmas [Christ’s Mass] is in the Church and the home, not the mall or the Internet store.
Herself sez: On December 25 / January 7, and not before, we will chant in Church:
Troparion of Nativity, Tone 4
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shone upon the world the light of wisdom! For by it, they who worshipped the stars, were taught by a star to adore Thee: the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on high! O Lord, glory be to Thee.
Kontakion of the Nativity, Tone 3
Today the virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels with shepherds glorify Him, the Magi journey with the Star! Since for our sake the Pre-eternal God is born as a Little Child!
As noted by the Ol’ Curmudgeon, there is no place for commercialism or consumerism in either the Icon or the Hymnography of the Nativity!