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Christmas’ Identity Crisis

I’m not one of those people pounding their fist on the table, insisting that we should “put the Christ back in Christmas.” I say, “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas when I’m talking to a stranger. I send generic season’s greeting cards because I want to be sensitive to the many friends I have that practice different religious traditions.

Still, I have to admit that I’ve been bothered lately about discussions of Christmas traditions that have little or nothing to do with Christmas. People put up Christmas trees, buy gifts and have parties for family or friends. But, in the U.S. at least, people do not really connect these practices with any kind of religious tradition.

This really is too bad. The Advent and Christmas seasons are infused with rich theology that shows the age-old struggle between darkness and light. In her book, Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas, Jan. L. Richardson writes and reflects on the dark times of Advent so as to more fully embrace the light that bursts forth at Christmas: “The festival of Christmas offers a winter thaw, an opportunity to ponder new birth when the landscape around us, and perhaps within us, seems lifeless. The celebration of Christ’s birth beckons us to consider what has lain dormant in our own lives, and what new life lies waiting beneath the surface. As women and as men, during this season we share with Mary and Joseph in giving birth to the holy.”

By embracing the fullness of this tradition, we remind ourselves that Advent and Christmas (and nearly all Christian seasons and holidays) are rooted in the deep, human struggle to make sense of our chaotic and sometimes senseless world. For Christians, we are beautifully reminded at this time of year that God became incarnate not as a great and powerful warrior but as a small, vulnerable child — presumably to offer us a beacon of hope in our struggle.

If we got back to the deeper meaning of this season, we might find ourselves attracting back to church those who struggle with these questions everyday, often alone. That would indeed be a beacon of hope – to provide a safe space for those struggling between the darkness and light in their own right.

So, for at least a few moments, take a break from all of the busy holiday preparations and reflect on what it means for you to have the light break through your own darkness. What does it mean for you to be part of God’s creative, hopeful energy?

Peace and joy to you in this holiday season.

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