We put Christ in Christmas more than 1500 years ago, hijacking the Sun God’s Solstice and hallowing it all Holy for the Son of God, hoping a high Christian festival this time of year might convert the pagan masses to pray at our pious Mass.
Look, let’s break it down: Advent ain’t Biblical, and Christmas ain’t really Christian in the first-century sense, but ‘cause the year is cyclical, and we’re wired seasonally, we can recontextualize the scriptures, crank up the familiar music, and claim some sacred fun from the Sun/Son pun.
If I were to listen to the charge from my fellow Jesus-following bloggers in the emerging movement, it might be time for the Christians who put Christ in Christmas to engage in some anti-consumerist sedition and take Christ back out of an entirely invented tradition.
I get it—but I don’t get it. Are we really going to let the obnoxious zealots on the religious right ruin Christmas for us? The War On Christmas is a logical fallacy—a Frosty the Strawman, if you will.
But for a few weeks, the whole Christian (and Christianish) world is taking off work and talking about the “straw poverty” of the Prince of Peace. Let’s relish and retweet the annual cultural currency of the revolutionary revelation to “preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.” Do we really want to allow the anti-consumerist critique to go all Grinch on that? If anyone rightfully inherits the legacy of the Puritan Scrooges who ban Christmas, do we really want it to be the Christian left? Rather than join the War on Christmas because some Christocrats on Fox News boiled our blood, let’s wage Christmas on War.
For me, emerging Christianity is about the prophetic and the poetic not the pious. Yes, we worship a Baby and not your brand, a King and not your bling. But if I am to understand the prophetic commerce of the gospel, it’s neither capitalist nor communist. It’s a gift economy. And the gift-giving of these annual rituals is not inherently evil simply due to their recuperation by WalMart, Amazon, and BestBuy.
Here, for just a few weeks each year, we have a temporary autonomous zone of fierce faith, of frolic and fun. We can wallow in guilt and cringe at perverted first-world privilege all we want, but Christ cannot be offended by Black Friday baloney. If we think all the shopaholic overspending, credit-card maxing, sugar-overdosing, and eggnog foggy sloppiness are strange and somehow sacrilege, what do we make of God’s profligate love and gluttonous grace?
Children don’t sleep because of the toys, but I can’t sleep because of the joy. Christ canceled my sin, and this is worth celebrating. But more than that, the Christmas teachings are some of the most radical, most countercultural, most subversive in all the Bible. If the superrich, superpowerful sipping alcoholically and feasting sumptuously in the palaces of empire are going to kneel and pray to an infant revolutionary and peasant lord born to an unwed mother in a Palestinian cave, should we really try to stop them?
I’m with Borg and Crossan and their brilliant book The First Christmas, where this holiday is “the promise and hope for a very different kind of world from the world of Pharoah and Caesar, the world of domination and empire.” I’m with Borg and Crossan in repentance and a “confession of commitment, allegiance, and loyalty” to Emmanuel, Messiah, Son of God, Lord and Savior. I’m with Borg and Crossan seeking the birth of Christ within, following the light and resisting the ruler’s plot to destroy the light. I’m with Borg and Crossan, trying to be a “Christmas Christian in a world that still descends into darkness.”
I’m not buying into the myth of the War on Christmas or the war on the War on Christmas but will gladly do combat in the war on crassness. I will deck the halls—jolly but sober. Be a fool for Yule but don’t be rude or crude. Bah Humbug is just another drug, and I refuse to get drunk by raining on someone else’s Christmas parade. If they want to skip church on Christmas Sunday and buy lots of cheap crap made in China, that’s their prerogative.
I’m Occupying Church this Christmas by church-hopping with family and friends and taking in as many services at different churches as I can cram into the 18 hours between dusk Christmas Eve and noon Christmas Day. And I am also celebrating Winter Solstice with friends a few days before that.
This Christmas, I’m going to tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Christ is already everywhere and everything, whether or not we sing. But what we sing and what the lyrics and bible verses bring are nothing shy of a revolution for peace and justice, love and joy. That’s a not a toy, and it can’t be wrapped. But it does have a beat that the little drummer boy can keep. And we sure can dance to it.