Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Joyful Whatever!
With FOX News seeking to expose those who refuse to say "Merry Christmas" as secular collaborators to the War on Christmas, I confess that I am confused. FOX holds itself up as the network that stands by traditional values defending America and faith from heresies and infidelities of all sorts.
Did FOX get the wrong memo? According to ancient Christian tradition, "Christmas" is not the December shopping season in advance of Christmas Day; rather, it is Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Twelve Days following that run until early January. During most of December, Christians observe Advent, a four-week season of reflection, preparation and waiting that precedes the yearly celebration of Jesus' birth. In many mainstream and liturgical (and even liberal and progressive) churches, no Christmas hymn will pass the lips of a serious churchgoer for another two weeks. If you wander into a local Lutheran, Episcopal or Roman Catholic parish, the congregation will still be chanting the ethereal tones of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" or "Watchman, Tell Us of the Night." There are no poinsettias, no Christmas pageants, no trees or holly, and no red and green altar linens. A few days ago, they might have preached about St. Nicholas -- but not Santa Claus. There are no twinkling lights or over-the-top Christmas displays. Just four candles in a simple wreath, two partially burned, two yet to be lit. The mood is somber as December moves toward deeper darkness, and the night lengthens. The world waits, and it is time to prepare for the arrival of God's kingdom. It is not Christmas. It is Advent.
During these weeks, churches are not merry. There is a muted sense of hope and expectation. Christians recollect God's ancient promise to Israel for a kingdom where lion and lamb will lie down together. The ministers preach from stark biblical texts about the poor and oppressed being lifted up while the rich and powerful are cast down, about society being leveled and oppression ceasing. Christians remember the Hebrew prophets and long for a Jewish Messiah to be born. The Sunday readings extol social and economic justice, and sermons are preached about the cruelty of ancient Rome and political repression. Hymns anticipate world peace and universal harmony. Churchgoers listen to the testimony of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who speaks of God:
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Does FOX News want us all to say "Merry Christmas" so we forget about Advent? These, after all, are the four weeks that the Christian tradition dedicates to God's vision of justice for the outcast and oppressed, not to celebrating the sound of ringing cash registers or Victorian America values.
Ancient Christian saints, theologians and evangelists would be horrified that those who claim to stand for tradition have forgotten the most important aspect of it. Jesus Christ was not born that human beings would spend December shopping or saying, "Merry Christmas." Jesus was born to confront the rulers of this world with the love and justice of the God of Abraham -- that Jesus, the same Jesus who preached the the poor and marginalized were blessed, is the King of kings and Lord of lords. All earthly powers pale before him, the humble born one who will die a political traitor to Rome.
Perhaps FOX thinks it might be best if Christians did not spend too much time contemplating a Savior who promised to overthrow the powers-that-be in favor of a kingdom where the poor are blessed and the last shall be first. That's probably bad for business and does not exactly fit with their favored political philosophy.
And maybe, just maybe, the real war of this season is the War on Advent.
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