Holly jolly holy night
When it comes to movies, I like dramas. When it comes to Shakespeare, I like the tragedies. If I were a monk, I’d probably be a Trappist, self-flagellation and everything. In short, I’m kind of a heavy. When it comes to Christmas, it’s the sacred part I love. No ring-jing-jangling plastic lighted reindeers for me. Give me candles and hymns and a crèche any day of December. When I was a kid, my mom took me to sit on Santa’s lap once, and I complained he had bad breath. And when considering my Christmas article, the first thing that came to my mind was a lesson of reconciliation found in the Christ child, that God’s vulnerability began the impossible process of restoring us and that’s a hopeful thought in the face of our own broken relationships. I love that, the meaning and the metaphors Christmas supplies. God made flesh, the divine crashing down into my backyard in Barrie. Goosebumps.
This year, however, I’m having a very different kind of Christmas because my daughter is three. We took her to the local Santa Claus parade a few days ago and there amid all the kitsch and glitter and bad holiday pop songs blaring from truck radios, I saw her eyes light up with joy and I kind of understood all the fuss. She says, “Oh yook, Mama!” when she sees the Christmas trees at the Bay and wriggles with anticipation when I get the ornament box from the basement. And presents? It’s lovely to give them because she doesn’t expect anything yet; getting a present is sheer grace to her and she receives it so beautifully.
We Christians can be intense. Yes, it’s hard for us to see our sacred traditions co-opted by secular culture, to hear the term “holiday tree,” to watch kids place so much hope in Santa, and to see the Light of the World broken down into a million plastic LED bulbs strung across the roof lines of suburbia. It’s painful to watch the world’s greatest Gift be replaced by excessive gifts as the heavy feet of consumerism trample all that’s closest to our hearts this season. And so we launch passive aggressive counter attacks by “keeping Christ in Christmas” and “remembering the reason for the season.” Yet sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off to capitalize on all that joy.
Legend has it that an early missionary to Germany, Saint Boniface, encouraged the local people to continue the pre-Christian tradition of bringing home an evergreen tree in winter. After intervening in a terrible pagan ritual of human sacrifice, he reframed the fir tree tradition, reminding the people that it was a symbol of peace and highlighting the fact that it pointed heavenward.
In his book Peace Child, missionary Don Richardson argues that tribal cultures often contain a metaphor for Christ, a “redemptive analogy.” His missional breakthrough with the Sawi people of Dutch New Guinea came when he discovered and hooked into that metaphor, in their case, the practice of giving a baby to the hated people of a warring tribe in order to initiate peace. If a person was willing to give his beloved child to an enemy, he must be trustworthy. And in that practice was the perfect illustration of God’s gift in Bethlehem.
I once heard someone say that “Christians are always fighting against something,” and I’m pretty sure that’s not the best representation of this beautiful faith we share. So although I’ll always love the sacredness of Christmas, maybe it’s okay to seek out metaphors in the secular and point joyfully to them. See, there he is! There’s Jesus in my toddler’s desire to drop her Elsa princess into Daddy’s stocking. And there he is in the way the canned music ignites in people the hope that holidays are coming. And I see him in the shine of the tinsel and the fun of the gingerbread house and the sweetness of the baking. I see him in all good things, even in my daughter’s excitement as we wait in the horrible Santa Claus lineup at the mall. He is the God incarnate – here, now, present in this culture. And although I can be a bit of a fuddy duddy (to use my husband’s expression), maybe it’s okay to enjoy some holly jolly this Christmas.