Creative Xmas. Remembering love, recalling hate
MANILA - White Christmas is what they're dreaming of, and they're Filipinos. But aren't millions of other Filipinos dreaming the same? Yes. They've been like that at least since Bing Crosby became the Crooner, and they can sing like him too. They are creative, silly!
Still, the Yankees are sillier, if you ask me, or more ridiculous. That's the insight I get listening to Deirdre Reilly of Boston who says American "Christmas is under attack" (16 December 2009, Taunton Gazette):
Christmas in 2009 is under attack, and Christians are feeling the heat. Many towns across the country are considering removing their crèches or have already removed them, and employees are fined if they express their faith at work by saying "Merry Christmas."
Crèches, Nativity scenes have been transformed by American legal luminaries and media masters from being devices for free worship to being devices for liberal horsewhips. The law of God is a respecter of persons, but not the law of man. Deirdre despairs:
Is there any other faith that is discouraged from celebrating its sacred days the way that Christianity in America is? Is there any other faith that causes people to demand the removal of its peaceful symbols and the legal change of its central figure - God - on public buildings and currency? The celebration of Christian faith really threatens people, really gets under people's skin.
What Deirdre is saying is serious, people. O my God? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, they're afraid of their own religion! What will Francis Scott Key call now the citizens of the United States of America: Cowards?
What about the Bible-thumping Christians? With a glistening copy of the latest edition of the New International Version on hand and turning to the Book of Matthew Chapter 5, with faith and feeling they will recite to you Beatitude 11, but they themselves won't act on that faith - what Deirdre is not saying is that they're afraid of their own man-made laws. They are paralyzed by a fear of their own making. Gumawa sila ng multo, sila ang natakot. They created the ghost and scared themselves. Well, this is a clear demonstration to me, a Filipino and a Roman Catholic, that faith without works is dead!
What's Beatitude 11 anyway? It looks to me the most Draconian test of Christianity Jesus could ever think of, short of carrying your own cross and at the end of the road being hung on it for 6 hours, abandoned by every single one of your 12 dearest friends, until you die of pain, exhaustion, dehydration (what does it matter how), or of a stab in the chest, which is only a little better than being stabbed on the back. Beatitude 11 is what I shall refer to here as The Jesus Premise:
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Matthew 5: 11, NRSV
Isn't that cruel? Jesus is saying, "Let the people harass you if they must. Let it be." Then he makes The Jesus Promise: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5: 12, NRSV). Sadly, in the case of the Yankees, the divine promise is not enough for those who would rather not suffer for their belief. Unfortunately, the Yankees don't have the faith of Moses, Daniel, or Jonah, or David. To them, Jesus' lecture lacks the force of law; his pronouncement is an irresistible force, but these Christians are immovable objects. They will not plead in court; they will simply plead with God that they are not prophets.
Serendipity, we have found today's cross in Xmas! The modern cross of Christian faithful in the United States is not lack of faith; it's lack of works. Do the Americans realize that whatever they do not do now, they are being hung on the cross anyway by their own judges of the law?
Instead of miserable as the Yankees would allow it, Xmas should be a great, wonderful time. "Christmas is a time of great joy and symbolism for Christians around the world," Christine Nyholm of Chicago says (suite101.com). Amen! I say. But there are always killjoys, and they can be your own kind.
"It seems that every year Christians become upset with the word Xmas because they do not understand the meaning, history, or symbolism of Xmas." Christine tells us that in Greek, X stands for Christ, cross, martyr, martyrdom. Jesus Christ! He was born to die for us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but may have eternal life" (John 3:16, NRSV). We believe, but when it comes to acting on that faith, we are paralyzed by fear.
The meaning of Jesus' birth was in his death and resurrection, a story that has no end, a story we wish will be ours too. With Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the human, the rebirth of the divine in us. I pity those who don't accept Xmas.
We must understand that Xmas is designed to be creative. If not White, my kind of Creative Xmas can be Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, or Violet - or all of the above. A riot of colors. A colorful Christmas is creative; a sharing Christmas is more creative. But I have a problem with the sharing Christmas we celebrate: Why do we always have to spend?
I think it's because buying is the only way we can think of to express our love. A very precious love, very expensive too. But we can all do better than that! We can all make a creative, sharing Christmas if we like, and we don't have to spend, only create with what we already have - and I don't mean handcrafted gifts, or Merry Christmas emails, or flashy PowerPoint gift presentations, or impressionistic PhotoShop images, or high-definition video recording-greetings.
About a creative Xmas, let's learn from examples around the world. Like: We can "enjoy the simple beauty of Christmas," Rev Patricia L Hunter of Seattle, Washington says (18 December 2009, Seattle Times). Of course we can. Patricia does it like this:
When I feel Christmas is coming too quickly, and I have more shopping to do, a menu to plan, and parties to attend, I must remind myself that Christmas is about the simple act of loving and giving of oneself. Acts of kindness emanate from the divine spark within us. So during the holiday season, let us remember to keep it simple and to give lovingly.
I don't know about you, but I have a problem with that prescription. How can Christmas be "about the simple act of loving and giving of oneself?" Xmas has always been creative, but giving of oneself is not that simple, not to mention loving. Not that I know of. We need practice! Let's try again.
Rev Bill Shuler of Washington DC gives us gentle "10 Reminders at Christmas Time" (18 December 2009, Fox News): (1) Mary, that God does not abandon anyone; (2) the stable, that blessings come often from unexpected places; (3) the wise men, that God may be where others fail to look; (4) the manger, that "God's touch brings dignity to the ordinary;" (5) the crowded inn, that God comes in only when welcome; (6) the shepherds, that the good news came first to the common people; (7) Herod, that "no enemy of the truth will triumph;" (8) Joseph, that God needs our obedience for his plan to succeed; (9) the angel Gabriel, that with God, nothing is impossible: and (10) Bethlehem, that "the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled with the birth of Jesus (Micah 5: 2)."
Thank you, Reverend. I find your list largely encouraging, mostly spirit filling, wholly productive of goodwill. I take it that you are wishing a creative Christmas to all of us Christians, whether Catholics or Protestants.
April Lorier of Santa Paula, California writes on "the difference between a holiday and a holy day" and says (21 December 2008, Associated Content):
We cannot allow ourselves to drift into a materialistic view of Christmas along with the rest of the world. In a month of colored lights and glowing candles, we should be burning brighter than ever as His lights to the world.
Burning in 1 month only? I say: Why shouldn't we be burning brighter than ever 12 months in a year? Of course that's impossible. Precisely! There's the challenge; there's the fun in trying. That's why it's worth trying to succeed.
Al Squitieri of Fulton, New York writes of "December 26, The Day After" and says (19 December 2009, The Valley News):
The shimmer and glitter are gone, garland hangs askew, lights no longer twinkle, and a tilted tree has gone unnoticed. Santa is again jobless, storekeepers are home counting the take, while shoppers are broke and overdrawn. It looks like an economical battle lost, and surely an spiritual one.
Economics is not my cup of tea. I take it that in an economic exchange, there is always a winner and a loser. I don't like losing. In an spiritual exchange, losers can become winners without the winner losing the next time around. I like winning all the time. Christmas is an spiritual exchange, so we should all be winners.
Marv Knox of Texas says, "We need a lot of Christmas this year" (19 December 2009, Baptist Standard). I say, Marv, "We need a lot of Christmas every day of this year, and next year, and the one after that."
Robert V Ozment of Rome says, "Christmas is God's greatest gift to mankind" (19 December 2009, Rome News-Tribune). I say, Robert, "Love is God's greatest gift to mankind. Love covers a multitude of sinners, us."
Bishop George Coleman of Fall River, Massachusetts says, "Manger reveals true meaning of Christmas" (18 December 2009, Herald News):
This Christmas, the whole Church will gather around the altar to remember the birth of Jesus by hearing the Word of God, by singing sacred songs, and by receiving Holy Communion. In faith and prayer, we will join our family, friends, and neighbors in celebration. We will ask God to bless the world and each other with the love that was born in Bethlehem this day.
Love was born on Christmas Day. Hate was born much earlier.
Kelly Boggs of Alexandria, Louisiana says the spiritual is "what makes Christmas so special" (18 December 2009, Baptist Press):
In Dr Seuss' classic tale "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," the malevolent main character discovers that Christmas cannot be thwarted. Try as he might, the Grinch is unable to steal, stifle, or subdue the Christmas celebration of the Whos who inhabit Whoville.
Even the Whos understand that the reason for Christmas is not to be found in gifts, feasts, or decorations. Christmas is a celebration that takes place in the heart.
So I ask: So why shouldn't it take place in the heart morning, noon and evening every day of the year?
ANN of Australia says the Sunshine Coast Council of Australia has deleted the word "Christmas" from its greeting card this year, explaining that this year the Council was "mindful of people's different backgrounds and beliefs" (author not named, 17 December 2009, The Noosa Journal). Like Tony Parson's Brits, the Australians are afraid of offending sensibilities. But not of offending reason.
I bet that's called "hedging your bet" - you are trying to say something and at the same time staying "on the safe side," not really committing to anything because you don't want to look stupid to some people. That's stupid; you can't avoid that - you always look stupid to some people! I don't mind looking stupid myself sometimes. Nobody's perfect. I used to mind, but not anymore; I must be getting old (well, I'm 69), or feeling better. I like better.
Bishop Robert J McManus of Worcester says, "He has come, let him lead us" (undated, Catholic Free Press):
As we experience and celebrate the birth of our Savior in the flesh on Christmas, we see fear overcome, hopelessness turned into joy and darkness turned to light. The world into which Our Lord was born was one of uncertainty, filled with fear and darkness. He taught all those he met, however, that there are good things of which they can be certain. He taught them not to be afraid. And he overcame the darkness of hatred, of ignorance and of indifference to one's fellow man with his example of love.
"Love your enemies!" he commanded. He wanted nothing except impossible love. That's why it's worth doing.
Peace is the meaning of Christmas that Pastor Dale O'Shields emphasizes (18 December 2009, quoted by Washington Times). I ask: What peace? Pastor Dale says:
We must be willing to let go of offenses, release resentment, refuse jealousy, and put an end to division and strife in our relationships. The coming of Jesus calls us to live in the peace of God and to choose to be at peace with others.
Amen to all that!
Andy Frost of UK "encouraged Christians to become like Jesus by sharing His love with the world this Christmas" (Jenna Lyle, 15 December 2009, Christian Today). I say: How about sharing His love before, during, and after Christmas?
Pastor Terry Grimes of Lindsay, Ontario says, "Celebrate, but don't forget about where it all began" (18 December 2009, The Lindsay Post). My take here is this: Celebrate the birth on Christmas Day, 25 December every year. We need to celebrate once in a while. Then celebrate the life the rest of the year, from 26 December this year to 24 December the next year. We need to celebrate all the time.
Fr Steven Binsfield of Saint Paul & Minneapolis asks that we "extend the Christmas spirit throughout feast days" (17 December 2009, The Catholic Spirit). Father, I think rather we should extend it throughout the year.
Andrea Sachs writes about "why we shouldn't give Christmas gifts" and says Joel Waldfogel, of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents For The Holidays, published by Princeton, says it's because it is "bad economic policy" (12 November 2009, TIME). He has an interesting, original explanation:
My objection is that the holiday spending doesn't result in very much satisfaction. Normally if I spend $50 on myself, I'll only buy something if it's worth at least $50 to me. But if you buy something for me, and you spend $50, since you don't know what I like, and you don't know what I have, you may buy something I wouldn't pay anything for. And so you could turn the real resources required to make things into something of no value to me. And that would destroy value.
Noted. That's economic value. I'm more interested in another kind of value. Spiritual value.
Leonard Peikoff of the Ayn Rand Institute in the US says in fact "Christmas should be more commercial" (23 December 1996, Ayn Rand Center). He is emphatic when he says, "In fact, Christmas as we celebrate it today is a 19th-century American invention." That it is. And that's why it's commercial. And that's why it's wrong for it to be more commercial; being commercial such as it is, is already too much.
Douglas Anele of Nigeria writes about "the uselessness of Christmas" and says, after he draws attention "to the uncertainty surrounding the actual birthday of Jesus, and the unchristian origin of the celebration itself" (20 December 2009, Vanguard, Nigeria):
Now, assuming that the birthday of Jesus is known for certain, why should it be celebrated by His followers, considering that there is nowhere in the Bible where Jesus celebrated His birthday, or enjoined His disciples to do the same when He was no longer around?
Douglas, why do you celebrate your birthdays at all? Why do we celebrate the birthdays of beloved leaders dead or living? Why do we celebrate the birthday of Barack Obama? Because we believe in ourselves, or we must. Because we believe in them. We believe in Jesus as God, so why can't we celebrate his birthday, never mind that it isn't 25 December as we Roman Catholics like to celebrate it? The thing is to celebrate the birth of the Redeemer. And not because it is not in the Bible that you can declare it "useless." The Internet is not in the Bible; it was never intimated in any obscure prophecy or clear saying of Jesus of Nazareth - but I know it would be useless to declare that it is useless.
The Ottawa Citizen of Canada sets "A Christian Example" and says, "Save saying 'Merry Christmas' until Christmas Eve and keep up that greeting until January 6, which is Epiphany, the end of the Christmas" (17 December 2009, The Ottawa Citizen).
The end of the Christmas - that's what I was afraid of! I expected Christmas to last as long as up to the next one.
Tony Parsons of UK says, "Are you dreaming of a politically correct Christmas, just like the ones we never knew?" (11 December 2006, mirror.co.uk). That's about being careful not to put up any decorations this year "because they might violate EU health and safety regulations" and about being careful not to say, "Merry Christmas" and instead carefully say "Seasons Greetings" because otherwise you might offend people of other cultures. I say:
Tony, we're lucky in the Philippines because we say, "Merry Christmas!" merrily to anyone who cares (or doesn't care) to listen and not worry about offending sensibilities. We must be sensible people.
I say if you say, "Seasons Greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas," you must be the Grinch. Dr Seuss has told me "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" - it was like this:
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask the reason. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
Is the US President a Grinch? Anna says Senator Barack Obama told PEOPLE Magazine in its issue out 25 July 2008 that he and his wife Michelle don't give Christmas or birthday presents to their 2 daughters because "(they) want to teach some limits" (24 July 2008, Say Anything). Xmas is a symbol of love - the Obamas want to teach some limits to love?
Xmas is also a symbol of sharing. Fr Jerry Orbos of the Philippines says to focus on our blessings and share them this Christmas (20 December 2009, Inquirer.net). "When we focus on giving and really give no matter what and no matter how little, then there is happiness, there is peace." There should be no rules, no borders, no limits to happiness, or to peace, or to love.
ANN of Taiwan says to "put Christ back into Christmas" (19 December 2009, Worldwide Faith News). More than any time of the year, this is the time we must realize that we have God with us:
As written in the Gospel according to Matthew 1: 22-23, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' - which means, 'God with us'."
In that first Christmas, with the advent of Christ, our world became fuller with God with us, among us. "However," ANN says, "as Christmas draws near, do we actually realize that God is truly with us?"
We must then ask ourselves what it means when we say God is with us. When we celebrate Christmas, do our celebrations revolve around parties and potlucks? Or do we actually spend time experiencing God's presence and reflecting on what He is doing in our world?
Considering climate change, I must ask: "What are we doing in our world?" We have Christmas parties one and all; do these parties distract us from enriching ourselves with the reason for the season? I say if you focus on the negative and equate that with what God is doing in our world, yours is a dead Xmas.
We must learn to focus on a positive even when confronted with a negative; with a positive thought, we self-construct. That takes practice, because when confronted with a negative, instantly with a negative thought, we self-destruct - killing ourselves softly.
Christmas is all of the above, all of the positive. If we can behave many a day as if it were Christmas Day, we can be constructive and lead fuller, happier lives, never mind that we have less in life. Deeply, greatly creative. How do you explain why I'm more creative at 69 than at 59 than at 49 than at 39 - I read even more in less time, think deeper and write faster? Been there, done that.
Rev Tim Boyce of Charleston, South Carolina says "Christmas is the gift of love to a world that doesn't understand until it receives it" (17 December 2009, jg-tc online). I understand. Sadly, Rev Tim says, "Christmas has evolved into a time in which we give gifts to those we love."
Ah, Reverend, that's what I was afraid of! During Christmas, we are very good in showering those whom we love - we shower them with our giving. At the same time, we are very good at showering those whom we hate - we shower them with our loathing.
Creative Christmas anyone? Remember love, recall hate. Cherish love, banish hate. A Merry Creative Christmas to one and all!