Frosty. Jingle Bells. Yes, Virginia, with its “The eternal light with which childhood fills the world…” stealing from religious imagery for its power, as always.
But it is our holiday, right? Or was, originally.
War Is Over. Deck The Halls. White Christmas.
Richie comes up and amidst some more secular pieces slips in “Hark the Herald,” then a Christian contemporary of his own composition. Good work.
The Little Drummer Boy. Marginal – at least it’s got Jesus in it.
From my job I can see the day when an Actual Christian will be brought out as some museum piece to weakly sing a carol no one knows anymore, with all the sentimentalists beaming at the old bird, thinking that they’ve gotten the authentic flavor of the traditional holiday – similar to those old-fashioned peppermints you have to special order now, which they get for their grandchildren every year.
It hasn’t reached you yet. This is New Hampshire, which, along with Maine and Vermont have the lowest percentage of Christians, and gee-whiz-who’da-thunk it, the least charitable giving as well. European levels. I am sad to see the gospel leave the place where I live – because Christmas and Easter are the last cultural holdouts, and if we can’t sustain those, we won’t sustain anything else – but I am glad that it has at least found other places to land, in Africa and Asia.
I am glad of this for other reasons as well. I used to think that an apophatic faith – one defined by contemplation of what God is not, was rather a dodge, a contrariness with more than a hint of arrogance, looking down on those who used mere worldly attributes to understand what God is. But I learned in dry years that this is not so. We lean on the physical and sensory to carry us: if those around us don’t Do Christmas (or Do Worship, or Do Charity) in quite the way we think it should be, it gets ruined for us.*
And yet, Christ comes, just as much in ruined Christmas as in an orderly one. We walk in a world among people who breathlessly say “…very special moments that remind us of what this holiday season is really about!” – meaning smiling and punch and watching the Grinch with friends – but the ordered steps of the earth and sun are unaffected, the season comes, and the appointed time for preparation is now joined to it as long as the earth spins. Christ was, and is, and is to come. The apophatic faith which says “Not thus…nor thus…” is more popular in the East, where there are always bad governments, shorter lifespans, more death. A good approach for tragic times, or even merely irritated ones. No one sang “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” this year. No matter. Christ comes. Rejoice.
For contrast to this post, I wrote The Sadness of NPR Christmas a few years ago.
*Can this be AVI, who usually calls us to immerse in the worldly and the physical trappings of the faith – the taste of the wine, the harmony of the music, the dark ceiling recesses of the cathedral? Yes, the same. Those are there for our instruction, to teach us great things. They are the mold of our faith, giving it shape. Yet the day may come when the mold is stripped away – and the faith has to stand alone. Rejoice in that day also.