February 11, 2011 / Mediation, Uncategorized
In 1991, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to the disturbing psycho thriller, The …
February 6, 2010
What did you get for Christmas? Or better put, what did you receive this Christmas? It is easy for Christian consumers to forget that the real meaning of Christmas—the so-called season of giving—is that God is received among humans in Christ, the baby Jesus. This gift trumps even the most generous donor or the most perfect present given by Santa Claus under the tree. What does it mean to receive Christ in the world? There are plenty of clues—from the gospels to tradition, ritual, and beyond. But what meaning can be derived in receiving Christ today in this particular social world of America 2010? Christian scholar Marcus Borg defines social world in two ways: first, as the material “total social environment” of a people with regards to their specific location in time, history, technological level, etc.; and second as the nonmaterial “socially constructed reality” of a people within which all human communities live, most familiarly known as “culture.”i So then, what of the baby Jesus in present-day America, a social world in which iProducts run rampant, newspapers transmutate from paper to e-form, books become as digital and as familiar as television and laptop screens, and issues of health care reform come to a head alongside sexuality in the military, higher and further barb-wired borders enclose us, and the political spectrum stretches as far right so as to grab hands with its pre-Civil War leanings and as far left so as to be confused with socialism, creating tenuous conditions for dialogue? How was Christ received this year?
Sociologist Max Weber claimed that there is a necessary connection between modernity and religion: As modernity advances, religion retreats—the process of secularization. Weber’s thinking on secularization begs the Christian consumer to question what significance, if any, receiving Christ at Christmas has for the larger society. Infamously, Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge tells his nephew to keep Christmas in his way, snarling “And I’ll keep Christmas in mine!” Is this the message received (or sent) at Christmas 2010? Christians receive God Incarnate, and Hallmark takes care of the rest. Really? Author Richard John Neuhaus writes that there is yet another way to think about secularization, “as the move from obligation to consumption.”ii As independent spirits possessing free will, there is the opportunity to be conscientious religious consumers in this secularized age of politically correct whitewashing. To receive Christ as infant Jesus in this social world means to interpret the myriad Christmas messages—and Christmas-less messages as well—through the Christian lens of the Incarnation, of the promise of the Prince of Peace, through eyes that see this world as intimately colored by God’s presence in creation.
Christians emerge from the dark and patient liturgical season of Advent to the bright and joyous season of Christmas with the renewed understanding of self as homo religiosus, that impossibly hopeful being that crawls through the mass delusion projected by our malls and media, and who yet sees herself as one of Luke’s shepherds, as theologian Dorothee Soelle puts it, “the praxis of transmission and proclamation,”iii the recipient of the angels’ message, “A child is born!” In a reflection on Christmas, the late preacher William Willimon writes that, “It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives not as our possessions, but as gifts.”iv Christmas reminds Christians that they do not belong to themselves, or even to this social world, but are pure gift—receptacles for God’s love.
i. Borg, Marcus J. Jesus A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and The Life of Discipleship (Harper Collins: San Francisco, 1987).
ii. Neuhaus, Richard John. “Secularizations,” from First Things, February 2009.
iii. Soelle, Dorothee. On Earth as in Heaven (Westminster John Knox Press: London, 1993).
iv. Willimon, William. “The God We Hardly Knew,” from Christian Century, Dec. 21-28, 1988.