Holiday rituals change, but Faith remains
Christmas has changed dramatically over the years. The wonder and excitement of waiting sleeplessly for Santa is a thing of the past. It is perhaps a child’s saddest moment to find out that Santa is really dad or mom.
I have a vivid childhood memory of lying at the top of the stairs waiting to surprise Santa. Somehow, I missed him and woke up in my own bed. No doubt the workings of the “parental” Santa that was really at work in the house. Now that Santa is long in the past; my kids are now grown (yet they will “always” be my “kids”). They have families of their own. Perhaps, Santa will return when my grandkids are “of that age.”
Our kids now experience Christmas in multiple households and with a blended family. I know this adds some stress to the season (who goes where/when). This has been further compounded by the birth of the first grandbaby (everyone wants time with him). We now have “rolling” Christmas. Work and life schedules rarely allow for “everyone” to be in the same place at the same time. This year we had multiple Christmases. Actually, it worked out well, just an extended celebration. For the kids, it was basically a weeklong event (Santa was a very busy man). However, we did have almost all the assembled group for a Christmas picture (for the first time).
Holidays and their rituals shift, as does everything in life. We grow older and the faith in the imaginary world of our childhood disappears. But faith is also what we have left. The real power of the season is not just in the receipt of goodies; it is the Faith that the world will be better; that things have a meaning beyond the events of everyday life.
“Christmas,” as in the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ, has become a bit passe’. In many quarters, this is synonymous with perceived more radical evangelical movements, as if for Liberals, a strong Faith is something to be scorned or feared. While it may be true that many “followers” also have a conservative perspective, lumping believing in Christianity automatically with the far-right wing politics is a form of bigotry (something the “Woke” culture espouses as evil). In effect, they are perpetrating the very attitude they purport to oppose. Politics and religion make for strange bedfellows.
I am offended by this perspective. I am a Christian (perhaps a very flawed one, but I identify with these beliefs non-the-less). I do not consider myself a radical. In fact, most of the people I know that likewise identify as Christians are generally open-minded and intentional when dealing with prejudices and intolerance.
I can also say that I am a “born again” type of Christian. Oh, I generally don’t overtly proselytize my belief or my return to the Church (yet here I am doing it in a most public way). I don’t particularly care how other people view my beliefs. It happened and is a real to me as any physical event I have experienced. I cannot explain “why” it happened; I only know that it did, and I cannot undue or deny it.
My “faith journey” has been an “on and off” process. I was raised in Faith, lost it, returned to it, and wandered away again. It has often been difficult to believe in a beneficent God when I have seen the evil, negligent and sometimes hypocritical environments it has periodically fostered. Christianity (the religion) has been…well, rather “un-Christian” at times. We’ve had multiple Popes, the Inquisition, and witch-hunts. We have fought religious wars against others and ourselves. We have passively tolerated genocides. We have honored “unworthy” leaders. All of this coexists with the great and wonderful aspects of this Faith.
Over time, I came to believe that I was an unlikely candidate for redemption. Enough transgressions had passed by to seemly weigh the balance against me. As the lyrics of a song by the Killers states, “I know Saint Peter won’t call my name.” Of course, I am not alone. Even the best among us are still “fallen” beings.
Still, I came to internalize my failings to the point that they seemed to “color” everything I did. I was backward-looking. All my actions seemed to be attempts to overcome past mistakes and the hurt I had perpetrated. I was stuck in and endless “do loop.” I could not move forward because I felt that I had to undo what I had done.
Several years ago, I was listening to a Christmas sermon (I had returned to the fold if for no other reason than to seek some form of solace). The words struck home with the force of a hammer blow. Jesus arrived to carry our sins and God forgave us unconditionally. Regardless of our transgressions, we have the opportunity every day to put behind us that we have done (wrong) with the understanding that they no longer define who we are. We do not need (although it is nice to seek) the forgiveness of those we have wronged. (That part is taken care of by God). We cannot undo the real pain we have caused, but it need not define who we are and who we can become.
I truly believe that the weight of my sins was lifted from my shoulders, that I could now start fresh, to build the relationships I wanted without being haunted by what I had been and done in the past. It was literally transformational.
Christmas has been different ever since. Yes, it is a time to rejoice in family, friends and…presents. But it is also a time to truly accept the Gift that God has bestowed on us. For that grace I am truly thankful. The traditions and joys of the season are enhanced by a much greater meaning.
May your Holiday Season, no matter what your beliefs, bring the joy that rests in that Faith. A Merry Christmas to all!