Prophets in Our Midst

Might there be a deeper meaning within the widespread incidence of "the Holiday Blues"?

The Scripture

Matthew 5:1-12
retold by Deborah

Jesus went up on the mountain to get away from the crowds, and his disciples went with him. It was then that he said to them:

“The poor in spirit are blessed, for their kingdom is heaven. Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted.

“The lowly are blessed, for the whole earth is theirs. Those who seek justice are blessed, for they will find it everywhere.

“The merciful are are blessed, for mercy be shown to them. The tenderhearted are blessed, for they will see God.

“Those who work for peace are blessed, for they will be called God’s children. Those who are persecuted for doing what is right are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

“You are blessed when people scorn and shun and slander you on My account. It is cause for celebration; it means you’re rich in heavenly treasures — because they persecuted the ancient prophets in the same way.”

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
November 24, 2014

Holiday Blues

The trouble has started again. For the last several weeks I’ve been meeting with people who are filled with fear and loathing of the days to come. These are not Scrooges who despise humankind or vegans who abhor the killing of innocent turkeys; they are regular folks who find themselves slipping into depression during the Advent season.

The Holiday Blues is insidious and widespread. Perhaps you know someone who suffers from it. Perhaps that person is you.

For some people the holidays are are not a time of rejoicing, but of emotional exhaustion and spiritual fatigue. Their energy flags, their thoughts turn bleak, they struggle through their days weighed down by the ever-present “Christmas spirit” — a spirit that they perceive as fiendish rather than festive.

The Stuff of Christmas

These are truly suffering souls: sorrowing in the midst of merriment — and feeling guilty about it. Jingling bells and holly, twinkling lights and ornaments, gifts and garlands, trees and bows and mistletoe seem to follow them. Wherever they go carols sound in their ears, constant reminders of their failure to be “merry and bright.” For these people Christmas is to be survived instead of celebrated. It is all they can do to make it through to the new year.

And Jesus tells us that the “low in spirit” are blessed? It certainly doesn’t seem that way!

An Act of Faith?

A man's got to believe in something.
I believe I'll have another drink.
    ~ W.C. Fields

lampshade hatWithout an avenue for expressing their feelings, some who find the Advent season difficult self-medicate with alcohol, narcotics and over-the-counter sleep aids. Others simply (as one young woman said to me recently) “endure the pain.”

You might never guess that these souls are suffering; they smile, they send out cards, they trim trees and bake cookies. They may appear to be the cheeriest ones at holiday parties — singing the loudest and staying the longest — in an effort to disguise the pain and avoid the depression demons that stalk them when they are alone.

“I pretend,” that same young woman told me, “so that no one knows I’m defective. It’s abnormal to hate Christmas.”

“It’s abnormal to hate Christmas” ? I wonder.

It seems perfectly understandable that people come to hate what Christmas has become: the stark and shameless commercialization, the endless appeals to greed and envy, the idolatry of “family” (as opposed to genuine relationships), the expensive, empty promises…. It is no wonder people get depressed. As Mark Twain once said, lies are hard to sustain: we grow weary of upholding the artifice.

But we don’t have to get sucked in. We do not have to participate in the adoration of St. Macy’s. Our faith is not defined by our culture. Our story, the Christian story, is very different.

’Tis the Season

sculpture of sol invictusChristmas is when Christians celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ’s birthday — even though we don’t know for certain when he was born. From the early third century of the Common Era onward his birth became associated with midwinter festivals, particularly that of sol invictus, the “unconquered sun.” This combined the birth of the Son of God with the thanksgiving feast in honor of the sun’s “return” as the days began to grow longer. And since the populace was already whooping it up anyway, adding to the celebration made perfect sense.

There are those who scornfully point to this as proof that Christians “invented” Christmas by repurposing an existing festival. But Jesus was born, so we needed to choose sometime to celebrate his birthday — and I think that there are some marvelous, truly inspired reasons for commemorating it when we do.

Christmas is …..

Holy Family

Christmas is an affirmation of faith. By celebrating the birth of Jesus we affirm our belief that God so loved the world that we were sent an incarnation of that love, to heal us, teach us, and encourage us. Ours is a “down and dirty” Lord, who rolled up his sleeves and worked among us. Jesus the Christ knows what it is like to be fully human: to be born, to learn, to grow, to love, to sorrow, to suffer, to die.

By celebrating the birth of Jesus we affirm our belief in human participation in bringing about God’s kingdom. We rejoice in holy Mary’s courageous “yes,” and blessed Joseph’s loving compassion. We give thanks for those who were healed, those who followed, and those who continue Jesus’ ministry: the body of Christ, at work in the world. By celebrating the birth of our Lord we remember our call to “go and do likewise.”

On one of the longest nights of the year we celebrate the Light of the World; the Light that darkness could not overcome, the Light that brought the Promise of new life and new beginnings. In bleak midwinter we proclaim God’s abundant generosity and unfailing love. Christmas is a celebration of the hope that endures — the hope that is confirmed with each sunrise.

That is what Christmas is.

Reclaiming

Those early Christians did indeed “repurpose” an existing holiday. They redefined and expanded a pagan festival, turning it into a celebration of the Lord Christ’s life and ministry.

We can do the same.

Star of the ShowThis does not mean we should go around shouting MERRY CHRISTMAS at every innocent soul who wishes us “Happy holidays.” Quite the contrary. As exemplars of our Lord’s message, we should be compassionate and kind, not tedious scolds looking for reasons to be offended. We should be looking for opportunities to spread comfort and cheer. We should be looking for the signs of what is gracious and good beneath the veneer of commercialism.

Our faith is not defined by our culture; it is defined by our love for God and our love for one another (Jn 13:35). Likewise the commemoration of Jesus’ birth: we do not have to be poisoned by the toxic representation of “Christmas” as defined by our culture. We can choose how we shall celebrate this holy, wholly marvelous event.

Those who are “low in spirit” during the holiday season are blessed — for they sense that there is something wrong: they recognize the disconnect between the true meaning of Christmas and the pagan festival that our culture celebrates. They are “like the ancient prophets,” bearing an important message that we would do well to heed.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

What makes Christmas meaningful for you?