Christmas Musings 2007

Today is Christmas, 2007. What am I doing today? Yesterday, I was privileged to receive my video of It’s a Wonderful Life. This was fortuitous. I could have gotten it after Christmas, but It’s a Wonderful Life is Christmas fare, or, more accurately, Christmas Eve fare. As I watched it, I really felt bad for George Bailey. Here was a person who continually helped others, but he never had an opportunity to do what he wanted to do, which was to see the world. I know that the story is fictional, but I’d like to think that George and Mary Bailey got to visit Europe, Asia, and South America at some point in their lives. Of course, the problem is that they would have to leave the Building and Loan to Uncle Billy during their absence, and I can imagine Uncle Billy running the company into the ground. Maybe one of George and Mary’s boys (or girls) grew up and helped run the company, allowing the couple to have some vacation time. But where would the Baileys get the money for travel? Well, at the end, George got more than the $8,000 that he needed. Maybe his neighbors wouldn’t mind if George and Mary used it to see the world. George did earn this privilege, after all.

Today, I watched a Christmas episode of Highway to Heaven, in which Richard Mulligan (Empty Nest) plays a newspaper columnist who finds the Christmas spirit. I’ll watch another episode later this evening, one that reflects Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. At the moment, I am taping A Christmas Story. I’ve never seen it before, and it is a renowned Christmas classic. I’ll also watch that this evening. At 3:00, I saw one of my favorite episodes of All in the Family, the one in which a draft dodger spends Christmas with someone who lost his son in Vietnam. It is a tear-jerker!

While watching television, I’ve been reading two books by Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time and Wind in the Door. I finished Wrinkle last night. I appreciate the books, but I have a hard time experiencing pleasure when I read them, and I don’t exactly know why. I appreciate them because they are about God using socially marginalized people for his righteous purposes, and I also like the way that the socially awkward Meg becomes friends with the popular jock Calvin, whose life is not as rosy as we might expect. There is also a character who speaks in quotations, since she cannot come up with words of her own in social situations. I identify with her problem here! Too bad my Latin is not good enough for me to quote Cicero in daily conversation. The books also have jewels of wisdom. For example, in Wrinkle, one of the eccentric characters likens life to a sonnet: a sonnet needs a specific number of beats to be a sonnet, but it can still contain a variety of possible words. I interpret this to mean that there is one righteous path, which can encompass a variety of possible choices.

I went to church this morning. Drawing on Aquinas, the priest talked about the different ways that Christ is united with humanity. He said that a person who has faith yet lives a sinful life is in danger of becoming eternally lost. At the same time, he affirmed that God can still work with such a person, since there is a connection between him and the divine. The priest urged us to develop a deeper relationship with God. His specific steps for doing this included: (1.) Become a Catholic, if you are not one already, (2.) Go to confession, and (3.) Read about the saints. I usually don’t feel “fed” by this priest’s sermons, since they are rather philosophical and often promote ritualism as a spiritual solution. But they do intellectually stimulate me, which is more than I can say for evangelical and mainline Protestant churches (BORING).

As I was thinking about a topic for today’s blog entry, a question entered my mind: Why did Christ come to earth? I remember reading a book by John Shelby Spong, This Hebrew Lord, in which Spong was stumped by someone who asked about Jesus’ significance. Evangelicals and other Christians would probably deem this an easy question: they would say that Jesus came to reveal God’s will, bring forgiveness of sins, and inaugurate a kingdom of justice for the poor. But these things existed before Jesus came. People already knew that they were supposed to love God and neighbor. God already forgave sins (though evangelicals will probably argue that the blood of Christ was the basis for atonement in pre-Christian times). And people already knew that they should help the poor. What did Jesus bring that was new? Well, he did make God’s rules stricter. Now, we can’t get a divorce or lust after women. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time getting enthusiastic about a stricter law.

Another topic that came into my mind was Christmas’ pagan origin. I grew up in an offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God, which did not observe Christmas. Many argue that Christians transformed a pagan festival (Saturnalia) into the “Christian” holiday of Christmas. Others contend that the pagans were the ones who stole Christmas–from the Christians (see The Celebration of CHRISTMAS ). If Christmas has pagan origins, should it be observed? On one hand, Deuteronomy 12:30 seems to prohibit the use of pagan customs in the worship of God. It says: “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following [the Canaanites], after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.” On the other hand, the Bible does describe the God of the Hebrews through pagan imagery (e.g., a god who slays a chaos monster), and there is also overlap between biblical and pagan customs (e.g., temples, animal sacrifices, etc.).

I guess that the way I approach this issue is as follows: I myself don’t really keep Christmas, since I am usually alone on that day. But I don’t have a big problem when others observe it (not that their actions are my business in the first place). God dislikes pagan customs that compromise his character, such as child sacrifice or orgies in worship. But I don’t think he stresses out when people set aside a day to fellowship and honor Christ’s birth, assuming that they are indeed doing that in their celebration of Christmas (rather than being materialistic). Christmas is a time to think about certain virtues, such as generosity. But we should be generous throughout the year, not only on Christmas.

So these are my Christmas reflections. Maybe I’ll have more after watching A Christmas Story–I will have to see. Happy holidays!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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