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A Meditation on Christmas

Scott on December 24, 2006 at 12:24 am

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There is a quality to Christmas that resonates with people, an essence to it that calls out to something inside of us. During this time of year that people call the “holiday season,” people spend a considerable amount of time and energy trying to distill this essence into something that they can grasp. Christmas carols, holiday parties, family gatherings, Christmas trees, lights around the house, traveling home, special meals all of these things are attempts to grab hold of an elusive something that Christmas promises.

The movies, songs, and stories, the Christmas parties, the greetings of “Merry Christmas” join together in a symphony of holiday traditions, all in an effort to codify the essence of Christmas, to make the concept more concrete and thus more understandable and applicable to our daily lives. We desire to grab a hold of Christmas, to wrap our hearts and minds around it and to try to understand and connect with it in a way that creates meaning for us.

At last count, there have been over 260 movies made directly connected to Christmas with various others that use Christmas as a backdrop in some way or another. These movies include classics like “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn,” and of course “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This estimate includes movies made both for theater and for television.

Here’s some useless but interesting trivia. There have been:
- 3 Versions of Babes in Toyland
- 11 Retellings of A Christmas Carol (including the musical “Scrooge,” Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” Disney’s “A Mickey Mouse Christmas Carol,” and the “Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol.”)
- 4 Home Alone Movies
- 3 Versions of Miracle on 34th Street
- 6 Versions of The Night Before Christmas
- 4 Variations on It’s a Wonderful Life
- 5 Stories involving lost or stolen reindeer
- 23 stories involving Santa Claus

And then there is this movie of SPECIAL NOTE: – Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Then, of course, there are the countless television specials that have been beamed our way over the last several decades. “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and the “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown” specials have been staples of households in this country for the last 4 decades. Popular entertainers like Bing Crosby and Andy Williams used to broadcast specials every Christmas season for years and years. Nearly every show on television has a Christmas-themed episode or two. Who can forget the Christmas episode of Gilligan’s Island when the Skipper dresses up as Santa Claus, only to run into the real Santa Claus coming to pay the 7 stranded castaways a little visit; or the episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel ALL dress up as Santa Claus to surprise little Ricky; or the back-to-back episodes of Hercules and Zena when the two heroes run into a young couple with a new baby who are in need of help, only to find out that they are Joseph and Mary traveling with the baby Jesus; or the episode of E.R., or Friends, or The Cosby Show or that very special Christmas episode of Blossom?

Don’t forget those incredibly note-worthy specials that will go down in the annals of television entertainment: The Star Wars Christmas Special, The Very Brady Christmas Special, and The Donny and Marie Christmas Special.
Good times, good times!

Then there’s the music. Traditional carols like “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World,” and “Silent Night,” Holiday favorites like Nat King Cole’s “O Christmas Tree,” and Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” , and the newer songs like”Zat You Santa” from Buster Pointdexter, “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child” by Mariah Carey, and “I Pray on Christmas” by Harry Connick.

And the stories from Charles Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol,” to O’Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” to “A Cup of Christmas Tea” and of course, Clement C. Moore’s much-loved “A Visit from St. Nick” (otherwise known as “T’was the Night Before Christmas). These, of course, do not include the most well-known Christmas story of all, the original story of Christmas found in the gospel of Luke.

If we take these things, the movies and television shows and stories and songs, and look at them collectively, we can see how apparently we yearn for something much deeper and more significant in life that is triggered by this time of the year. Our hearts and souls seem to work overtime, trying to make a connection with others and with the “spirit of the season,” which we hope will in turn help us make a connection on a more personal and eternal level with the significant and life-changing Truths of the Christmas season.

It is during this time of year that we, the finite beings that we are, unite in an attempt to make contact with the infinite, and we try to make that connection in such a way that our lives are influenced and changed, if only for a few days or weeks each year. And at this one time of year, people around the globe (believers and nonbelievers alike) come together to commemorate and celebrate the beginning of the life of the most significant individual to ever walk the planet. We unite to acknowledge the infinite entering into the finite world and the all-powerful God of the universe leaving his heavenly throne of glory to become flesh in the form of a baby born into very humble surroundings.

We are driven toward understanding Christmas because deep inside we are driven to try and understand the infinite and how the infinite makes its connection with the finite, and how all of this is expressed in the person of Jesus We are impelled to grasp its mysteries by a desire to gain what we don’t have, to make contact with its amazing promise: Peace on earth, Goodwill to all men, Comfort and Joy, a Light shining in the darkness

We want to experience the Peace peace in the world, peace in our relationships, peace in our lives and souls.

We long to experience Goodwill the love and acceptance of the people around us, deep and meaningful relationships with our family and friends, etc.

We desire to experience Comfort and Joy. We want to be comforted in our grief and sadness and to feel the joy of living a life of meaning and direction, a life free of guilt and baggage.

We recognize the darkness that exists in this world the pain and suffering and evil but we also recognize the Light that stands in stark contrast to the darkness, the Light that is embedded in the Christmas story and that we are drawn toward as people dying of thirst are drawn to the cool, clear water of an oasis.

In all, we strive to unlock the mystery embedded in the Christmas story and to open the door to a relationship with the author of the story, the Almighty God of the universe who extended Peace, Goodwill, Comfort, Joy and Light to us in the form of His son who was made flesh and came to dwell with humanity, offering us a chance at forgiveness and redemption.

What We See: The WONDER of the Christmas Story
What We Need: The HOPE of the Christmas Story
(We see the WONDER but we need the HOPE)

The wonder of the Christmas story is covered in song and movie. “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and “Joy to the World” all touch on the wonder of this event that was foretold in the Old Testament. Isaiah 9 tells us:

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

This is then fulfilled in Luke 2:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

In the movies, images like those seen in “White Christmas,” “The Night Before Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “The Polar Express” all touch on the wonder that is felt at Christmas time and the mystery of the source of the wonder and joy that comes when one embraces the spirit of Christmas. Sometimes it is wonder at the coming of the angels who announced the good news of Christ’s birth. Sometimes it is wonder at the magical, mysterious story of Saint Nicholas. Sometimes it is wonder at the love and blessings that people share with others in the name of the Christmas holiday. But no matter where you turn, there is this sense of wonder and awe that we don’t seem to feel at any other time of year.

The wonder of the Christmas story points us toward the hope of the Christmas story. When Isaiah tells us that the people dwelling in darkness will see a great light, there is hope there. There is an intrinsic value in Light that we understand and are waiting for in anticipation. The people of this world are born into darkness of mind, of heart, of deed and then the darkness is pierced by the Light of God that shines down into the world in the life of His only son.

John tells us in the beginning of his gospel that:

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

There is hope there deep, meaningful, transcendant hope for each individual life and for all of humanity. Hope for transformed lives. Hope for redemption and salvation. Hope for change and rebirth. Hope for Peace, Goodwill, Comfort, Joy and Light.

What We See: The PROMISE of the Christmas Story
What We Need: The FULFILLMENT of the Christmas Story
(We see the PROMISE but we need the FULFILLMENT)

Besides the Christmas story from the Bible, perhaps the best known story related to Christmas is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. In it, Ebeneezer Scrooge goes through an amazing transformation; but to do so, he is required to both acknowledge his past short-comings AND change his present behaviors in order to change his dismal future. And to do this he must confront the 3 ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The 3 ghosts represent events and choices from his past that have left him scarred and bruised, events in the present where he has had the opportunity to either bless or damage those with whom he interacts, and finally the events in the future that are shaped by his past and present decisions and actions.

What is interesting in this story is that once Scrooge is shown the events of Christmas present (which includes the crippled boy Tiny Tim) he is told that the events of the present do not dictate the future, they merely influence it. He is told that the shades of the future are not fixed but are fluid, able to be changed by the choices we make in the present. In other words, we aren’t shaped by and locked into what we have done in our lives. We aren’t doomed to repeat our failures or to live out the pain of our past decisions. We can change. We can be freed. We can be redeemed and transformed. Rather than a condemnation, the future offers us hope/

The child in the manger, the baby Jesus that is placed at the center of every nativity, is the symbol of that hope. The baby doesn’t stay that way. The baby changes and transforms. He grows to be a boy who is blessed by the grace of God, and the boy in turn grows to be the man, the man whom John the Baptist said was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. And there’s the hope the baby becomes the man who becomes the key to opening the relationship between God and man.

In the Christmas story, the baby in the manger is approachable because in him is expressed the purity and innocence of the promise of our future, a future freed from the horrible decisions of today, a future free from the pain of circumstances and loss. We see in the manger babe the beginning of the process of our redemption, the process that was completed 33 years later on the cross and in the empty tomb. Thus this child in the manger becomes the symbol of our hope and joy. In him we are given the key to change. We are given the choice: either do what we always do in the same old way and get the same old results or do things differently and approach life from a different angle that is provided through a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. This second choice offers a shot at a changed life and a hopeful future.

What We See: The LOVE of the Christmas Story
What We Need: The SACRIFICE of the Christmas Story
(We see the LOVE but we need the SACRIFICE)

During this time of year, Christmas becomes synonymous with love love for our family and friends, love for our neighbors, love for the world. And to be sure, Love is a key component of what this holiday is all about. John tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son ” God sent His Son out of love. It doesn’t get much more direct than that.

But what is forgotten in all the talk about Love is what the Love leads to Action. Love not expressed isn’t really love at all. If we love someone, we are impelled to do something about it. We tell them. We show them. We demonstrate our love for them through our actions, and more specifically our actions are motivated by a desire for the other’s best interest. The love evident in the Christmas story is just that kind of Love God looking down on us and loving us to the point where He is willing to take action even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice.

So here we are, some 2000 years later, living in the aftermath of the sacrifice that began in a dimly lit manger, surrounded by smelly animals and common people. No royal surroundings for the newly-born King. Just the lowest of the low.

The Christmas story has morphed and changed and adapted to the world and in many ways has become different than what it was intended. The commercialization, the addition of other stories and other traditions, the hustle and bustle. And yet the essence of Christmas is still there and calls out for us to look at all of the stories and movies and songs and traditions and find the Truth of Christmas that is embedded deep within.

When we hear about the Wonder of Christmas, we need to keep in mind that the Wonder is really connected to the Hope that the Christmas story provides for all of us who are born into this world. The Wonder is born out of a deep seated, overwhelming feeling of reverence and awe at what was done on that day so long ago, and what has continued to be done for us each day since that time.

When we hear about the Promise of Christmas, we have to remember that the Promise of Christmas isn’t just the promise of hope and peace and presents and love. Even deeper, it is the Fulfillment of the ultimate Promise that we need to remember. A Promise was made that God would provide a way to re-establish the relationship between us and Him, and the beginning of the Fulfillment began in that manger.

When we talk about the Love of the Christmas season, the sense of expressing the Love for our fellow man, we have to be sure that we do not forget the ultimate expression of Love sacrifice. The Love that God shared with us by sending His Son was also an act of Sacrifice, because by leaving his place at the right hand of the Father, the Son chose to become flesh and experience all the difficulties, trials, and tribulations of being human and then to experience excruciating pain and eventual death, all so that we might experience the Wonder, Hope, Promise, Fulfillment and Love of the Truth of Christmas.

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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