Sunday, March 16, 2008

Grinch, Humbug, Scrooge - I've Heard Them All

As a Christian, I don't get the big deal about Christmas. Easter, either, although to a lesser extent. (This is going to be a long one. You may want to hit the bathroom and grab a beverage before diving in, should you choose to accept the challenge.)

Paul wrote in Romans 14:5, "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." I'm in the "every day alike" camp, and for the most part I try to adhere to that principle.

I do try to set Sundays apart for rest and worship. While the specific legalities of Sabbath observance were certainly softened in the New Testament, the concept behind the Sabbath remains valid. Human beings need a day of relative downtime, for a variety of reasons, and that day is a perfect opportunity to devote some peaceful time to God.

I observe Sundays in a few ways. First up, rather predictably, by going to church. As much as I'd enjoy an opportunity to sleep in (insofar as my parental status allows), I won't do it at the cost of forsaking gathering with my brothers and sisters in Christ for worship and fellowship (even as awkward as I am with the fellowship part).

Second, I try to refrain from economic activity on Sunday. This is more of a preference, not a principle. I don't lose any sleep over it if I have to put some gas in the car or pick up some milk on Sunday, but I try to plan ahead to avoid those situations.

This extends past just shopping at department stores and the like - I try to avoid anywhere that requires people to work (restaurants, movie theatres, etc.), with the do-I-really-have-to-spell-this-out exception of church (the pastor, after all, is doing his job). Yes, some people have to work Sundays in the interest of doing good on the Sabbath, as commended by Jesus. Hospital staff, police officers and snowplow drivers come to mind. But, most people should be free to set it aside.

I find it kind of funny that I've had many conversations at church on Sunday mornings with people who decried Sunday shopping while sipping from the steaming Tim Horton's cup in their hand. Maybe they figure that their double-double was prepared by robots. But as our pastor recently said during a sermon, "If you think the Church is full of hypocrites, you're right. But come on in anyway - there's always room for one more."

I also try to refrain from secular labour on Sundays, even of the unpaid household task variety. For example, I try to either get the lawn mowed and dishes washed on Saturday, or leave them until Monday. I try to listen only to Gospel music on Sundays, and my Sunday blog posts will usually be on spiritual themes. These are all token gestures, but they help to remind me what the day is supposed to be about.

There is one thing about keeping Sundays holy (distinct, or set apart) that bothers me a bit. I think the Seventh-Day Adventists might be right about the Sabbath. It was Saturday, not Sunday, in the Old Testament, and still is for observant Jews. Where Sabbath observance is discussed in the New Testament, there does not seem to be a direct Scriptural basis for moving our day of observation from Saturday (the seventh day) to Sunday (the first). Since I try not to be too legalistic about it (as long as you set aside a day, I'm not sure that it matters overmuch to God which day), I can move past it, but it's still something I think about from time to time.

I also think that most holiday traditions are silly. I evaluate each holiday-specific activity on the basis of whether I would do the same thing on any other day just because I felt like doing it. Buy a present for a family member? Sure. Set off some fireworks? Quite possibly. Stick a decorated tree up in my living room? Not so much. Disguise my kids in costumes and send them around the neighbourhood begging for food? Not a chance. (The costumes are not the problem with that last one. As any parent will attest, sometimes a child will get up in the morning and decide, for no apparent reason, "I think I'll be Batman today." The parental response of least resistance is usually to help them tie their cape.)

As for Christmas and Easter, I think most of us are being hypocritical in our observance (which reminds me of the earlier quotation from my pastor). I'm going to just talk about Christmas to explain this; feel free to mentally substitute the appropriate Easter terminology as you prefer.

There are two ways to handle Christmas: believe the Christmas story, or don't. That is, believe that God took on human form and came to live among us, ultimately dying to redeem us from our sinful state, or reject the idea.

If you don't believe it, then December 25 should mean nothing special to you, and it's simple hypocrisy to pretend that it does. (On a side note, no, December 25 was very probably not the day that the baby was born in the Bethlehem manger. That date was chosen for reasons other than historical accuracy that are beyond the scope of this article and irrelevant to my point anyway. At least Easter has the added virtue of being at the right time of the year.)

Even if you're one of the mushy modern "Christians" who rejects the idea of the virgin birth, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection but thinks that Jesus was a nifty (but utterly mortal) guru-type guy, then that only brings December 25 to the level of, say, Martin Luther King's birthday.

In that case, what's the big deal about Christmas? You could buy presents for your loved ones (or those not-so-loved ones for whom you feel an obligation borne of reciprocity or societal expectations) anytime. You could chop down a perfectly good, oxygen-producing, topsoil-reinforcing, wildlife-sheltering tree and stick it in your living room until its status as a fire hazard becomes too blatant to ignore anytime. You could wander around the mall and deal with rude, stressed-out shoppers and harried retail staff anytime. Why cram it into the last few weeks of the calendar year with everyone else?

If you are a Christian, then of course the situation is different. The Incarnation and Resurrection are central aspects of your life. In that case, I don't see where it makes any sense to relegate their celebration to specific times of the year.

If you are a Christian, then you should understand that the reality of Christ and all He does for us is just as true on May 21, or August 5, or whenever, as it is on December 25. Each day should be a celebration of Him.

If you are a Christian, then every day is Christmas, and every day is Easter.

Of course there's nothing particularly wrong with making special acknowledgement, and using the calendar to remind you. I'm glad every day that each member of my family was born, and yet we make special celebration on their birthdays. If that's the function Christmas and Easter serve as practiced in wider society, then it's a tolerable one. However, for the vast majority of people, Christmas and Easter serve to keep Jesus locked away in a cupboard like the good china, to be taken out and dusted off once or twice a year, then promptly packed back away. After all, He's for special occasions only, not everyday use.

Christmas and Easter can also serve an important witnessing function. If even one person, anywhere, ever, has come to know Christ as Saviour after the hoopla of one of the seasons started them thinking about what really matters, then all the decorations and TV specials, as silly as I think they are, were and are worth it.

I've changed my view over the years about the many people who only show up at church at those two times each year (or even at only one of them). For those who aren't familiar with the jargon of regular churchgoers, we call those folks "C & E's."

In my younger, more legalistic years, I thought C & E's were hypocrites. I've softened now. They aren't hypocrites - they're travellers, working their way home. Every journey begins with a single step, and if someone's first step towards Christ is attending a Christmas Eve service, even though they haven't darkened the door of a church in months, then praise God for bringing them. I once went to a Christmas Eve service where the pastor preached a hardcore, fire-and-brimstone, you-need-salvation sermon. I loved it, and I wish more pastors would do the same. Yes, it would offend some people. The Gospel message is supposed to.

Despite my misgivings, I hope that the upcoming Easter long weekend gives you time to contemplate Him, whether you believe it all or not. I hope you think about why you do or don't believe it. Remember, because Mom (or Oprah, or Somebody On The Internet) said so should stop being a good reason right around the same time that Mom (or Oprah, or Somebody On The Internet) stops setting out your clothes in the morning.

And Merry Christmas. It's today, after all, whenever you're reading this.

Enough rambling. Here's a blurry picture of my bathroom door.


HomeSchooler said...

Bravo!!! I agree with almost everything! But I still like a Christmas tree. NOT because they're particularly "Christian" (although the majority of the ornaments on mine do have something to do with celebrating Christ's birth), but because they're fun.

Something to think about... If you're not willing to celebrate Advent and Lent, should you really be "celebrating" Christmas and Easter?

Anonymous said...

Just so I feel like I know something-


HomeSchooler said...

TB - the funniest part about your comment was that when I put the link in my browser and went there, only the top advertisement showed for a few moments: "Master of Arts in Diplomacy" - just what Zirbert needs... and will NEVER get!!!

Actually, I came back again because today (Saint Patrick's day) reminded me why it is important for us, as Christians, not to "write off" even minor religious holidays... especially when they've virtually been appropriated entirely by the secular world. Much can be said by the way we celebrate.

To give a concrete example, during high school (when some whom I know and love were trying to alienate as many people as possible... I'm not naming names...) my best friend and I took great delight in celebrating even obscure holidays (I'll never forget the joy of Waitangi Day!). But whenever a recognised semi-religious holiday came round (one that most people wouldn't know had any faith component, despite the "Saint" at the beginning of the holiday's title), we used it for our covert evangelistic operation.

It went something like this. We bake TONS of cookies in a fun shape (shamrocks, one Saint Patrick's Day, with green frosting, of course), divide them up, and take them with us to all our classes, asking to be allowed to hand out one to each person there (this offer was NEVER refused) and if we could tell the history of the holiday. Almost inevitably we were accepted on this second offer as well - we were telling a free history lesson, after all!

Naturally, in telling our stories, somehow the Gospel just "slipped" out!!! Which isn't surprising when you're talking about Saints and Martyrs. Since the mini-sermon happened to be combined with a history lesson and a yummy cookie, nobody ever complained. In fact, we were complimented on the cookies and frequently told something like, "Oh I never knew that! So there really was some dude named Valentine?"

It's really amazing with you see someone who lives a distinctly un-Christian lifestyle, thinks morals are things of the past, and listens to music that would have instantly gone in the fire had I even considered bringing it home to listen to, come up and ask, "Can I get one of those things you were giving out?" He was refering to candy canes with attached little tracts that had a Bible verse relating somehow to Jesus' birth, which we had been given in bulk by our local Protestant nuns (yes, they exist - and so do Protestant monks). We had dressed up as elves, itchy tinsel and all, handing them out, but had run out of the candy canes, and told him so. But he still wanted his own little Christmas verse!!!

Now, Zirbert, I doubt that ANY amount of money could convince you to dress as an elf, let alone handing out candy canes to stangers (even with a verse attached). And if you ever did something so silly, I can't even begin to imagine the reception you'd receive. (Okay, I can, but let's not go there, okay???) It's not your way. Deep theological discussion, tough questions, and points of logic you'd be all over, which is cool. I've gone that direction sometimes too, and will again when the situation calls for it. But the Lord calls all sorts, and that's because He uses all sorts, in their own ways, to minister and evangelise to those who wouldn't "get" it any other way.

Just don't let the pagans who have tried to suck all of the faith-basis out of our holidays have all the fun! And never, ever, ever let them forget (insofar as you are able) that there is a reason for and an history of the holiday, and that perhaps they should let a little of that reason speak to the way they choose to celebrate it.

Zirbert said...

Homeschooler said "TB - the funniest part about your comment was that when I put the link in my browser and went there, only the top advertisement showed for a few moments: "Master of Arts in Diplomacy" - just what Zirbert needs... and will NEVER get!!!"

Ironically, TB is actually far less diplomatic than I am. I think we became good friends because few people can stand either one of us (and the sentiment, unfortunately, is often mutual - hence the adjective in my blog title).

HomeSchooler said...

Having never been blessed (or cursed) to have met TB (despite hearing MANY MANY MANY stories), I cannot say who would need the Master of Arts in Diplomacy more...

Might not do either of you any harm! Isn't that what you always wanted??? To be more like DS (my husband, who would not be offensive, even if he really, really tried).

It takes all types!