Ah, that Chrismas spirit! Resembles modern day Bethlehem more than anything else, with its violence and mayhem, and shoving in line. What is it about this time for soul-searching peace that turns us into Antichrists? It is the greed, festering materialism, or are we just victims of the hard sell? Mea culpa. I’m Irish Catholic, and guilty as sin on two of three counts. Oh, holy night, just one of them left to shop. And with apologies to author Chappeau de Roquemaure, as “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn, fall on your knees, oh hear those” cash registers rejoicing!
Call it what you want, but Christmas today has as much to do with a nativity as cloning; it has morphed into the politically correct “holidays,” a celebration in tinsel and bright lights, washed down with plenty of good red wine or dry chardonnay. I had dinner the other night over a fine cabernet with an associate who even suggested that Christmas had evolved into a paean festival. She thought it was a good thing. Now isn’t that special!
U.S. News & World Report earlier this month created quite a festive buzz with its front page cover, “The Gospel Truth: Why Some Old Books Are Stirring Up A New Debate About The Meaning Of Jesus.” Citing the usual suspects—The DaVinci Code, Gnostic principles and the newly discovered Judas Gospel, the betrayer’s come-to-Jesus memoir—the magazine plays on modern interpretations of the scriptural life of Jesus as more of a “symbolic event.”
“To the Gnostics, or at least to many of them, Jesus was not the son of Yahweh sent to redeem fallen humanity through his death and Resurrection; he was an avatar or voice of the oversoul sent to teach humans to find the sacred spark within,” observes the magazine.
If that were true, Christmas by all counts should have about as much meaning to the faithful as it does to the masses today: Jesus Christ, Superstar, but not the Savior. Excuse the digression here, but in a Boston Herald American interview many years ago upon the death of John Lennon, I asked a bishop of the Boston Archdioceses, who was then an ardent Beatles devotee, what he thought about Lennon’s humanistic statement that the Beatles were more popular than Christ. The bishop paused in answering the question, then replied, “I wonder what John is thinking now?”
What are we all thinking now? Christmas, in the moment, is indeed about Christ the Lord, and last Sunday morning I sat elbow-to-elbow with fellow sinners squirming in the hard pew as our pastor lamented from the pulpit that the Christmas spirit was now defined in terms of our self-inflicted stress, and by what we want, what we get, and what we don’t give in terms of meeting the needs of others.
There are numerous books and tips to deal with this stress. For starters, he recommended Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Most, however, gravitate toward the self-help websites and paperbacks to get a grip. The American Psychological Association, for example, suggests the obvious: identify the factors for “holiday” stress; recognize how you deal with stress; change one behavior at a time; and take better care of yourself.
“Pay attention to your own needs and feelings,” the association offers in self-absorbed counsel that appears ambivalent on the role of the Almighty.
No surprise, the Anxiety Recovery Centre advises “more sleep,” “better financial planning,” and a deep, extended breath. “Stress, anxiety and depression are common during the festive season,” the Centre notes, giving correct emphasis to the cold reality that many are foundering in deep emotion turmoil during the Christmas season for a variety of personal reasons. “If nothing else reassure yourself that these feelings are normal.”
Wouldn’t it be edifying if “normal” at Christmas meant greater peace. No need to scavenge under the tree for it. John 3:16 is a far better place to look—Bethlehem as it was meant to be.