christmas is confounding
I have to confess, Christmas confounds and disturbs me.
Not the excess, though that is troubling enough - eating until we are more than full; giving and receiving of gifts that are just so much stuff no one really needs (and, too often, don't even want); crackers filled with lame jokes and lamer pieces of plastic we only throw away; wrapping, wrapping and more wrapping; cards; trees; lights; wreaths; candy cane; sleighs; santa hats; elf outfits; lollies... the stuff of Christmas out of context and out of control.
Family joy and love are also the stuff of Christmas, unmissable in every advertisement, enticing us to buy with their feel good tableau and enchanting music. Well, they are the stuff of Christmas in a few select families, while the rest of us slog it out around tense tables laden with misapprehension and disappointment, ably accompanied by the ghosts of conversations past, and those feel-good-Christmas models who make us wish we could be just like the advertisements. This too is disturbing, but still not the main cause of my Christmas angst.
At this point I should possibly admit to feeling more than a little repugnance towards the roly-poly, lovely jubbly, ever laughing, slightly nauseating Santa. He is simply everywhere. There is no escape. This year, before visiting classrooms to share the Christmas story, I decided to get the low down on Santa. Fascinating as the story was, it was a little troubling to discover the almost inane origins of the fat man in red - not entirely (as one might expect) based on Saint Nicholas, rather built on a trite little poem penned in 1823, called 'A visit from St Nicholas' or 'Twas the night before Christmas'. From here, all that was beautiful and meaningful about Saint Nicholas was gradually lost in favour of an increasingly rotund Christmas elf who could fit down chimneys and garner adoration from generations of children. Before long, corporations realised the pulling power of this merry man, and soon Santa could be found wooing us all to hand over our hard earned cash. The commercialisation of Christmas was well and truly on its way, to the point that today, companies care more about how much money has passed through their tills than the true spirit of Christmas.
True, this sorry state of Christmas affairs disturbs me, but what bothers me most is the story at the centre of it all. The birth of a boy child to a virgin mother. Preposterous, wouldn't you agree? An angel appears, tells a good girl she will become the mother of the one who will save us all through the work of the Holy Spirit. She is a little scared, but agrees to be part of the big plan, and in nine months, sure enough, she gives birth to a baby boy. What kind of a crazy story is this? Who could believe it? It is, quite simply, beyond the realms of possibility. And this is what gets me about Christmas, because every year I am confronted with the same story, and every year I must choose - believe it or not?
Not that this reckoning and re-examining is a bad thing - it shakes off complacency - but it isn't really comfortable. (And isn't Christmas all about comfort? See above) Rituals and remembering give strength and comfort of their own, I suppose. Certainly for me they offer and opportunity to consider my beliefs and reaffirm them.
So why choose to reaffirm belief in a story that is in many ways beyond belief? I suppose because I see it as part of a bigger story, one in which Jesus offers the way of hope and peace and love. If we truly listened to the message he brought, and followed him in the paths he took, the world would be a different place. (Now is not the time to discuss the blindingly obvious failures of many to truly follow Jesus in the way he wanted) I love the potential for transformation in the way of Jesus, the possibility of revolutionary change, the whisper of hope that could wipe out injustice and pain and tears and death.
Looking at the state of the world right now, the hope, potential, promise found in Jesus seems as impossible as a virgin birth. If I have the courage to choose to believe in one seeming absurdity, can I find it within me to believe in another?
By faith I can.
That is what it all comes down to really. Faith. I can't prove Jesus was born of a virgin. I can't prove he will come back and make this sorry mess of a world new. But I find enough of promise and hope in Jesus' words and actions to believe in what I cannot see. I believe with enough faith to find my way through the mess of our world for another year. Until next Christmas, when I examine it all again.