In the Spirit of Christmas…

“Bah Humbug!” ~Scrooge~

“I’m not as interested in your heart palpitations as I am interested in seeing you quit smoking and seeing you on cholesterol lowering medication.” The myriad certificates, diplomas, letters of appreciation, and such,along with the gracious words of many a current patient, led me to the reasonably objective conclusion that I was in very good hands with this particular heart doctor. A “mild” incident – involving Vera-Ellen from “White Christmas” performing her famous ‘nerve tap’ on my heart for over two hours to the metronom setting of 180 time – inspired this conversation with my Egyptian born cardiologist. A similar incident three years prior – this one more of a Danny Kaye tap dance than the rhythmic meter of his co-star – introduced me to the disconcerting world of “relatively harmless” heart conditions. The twin daggers in his eyes dared me to refuse his advice. Sharp and convicted was his gaze. The wishy washy in me began instantly to crumble at his educated and judgmental proclamation… “The most important thing you can do right now is to go on cholesterol lowering medication immediately!” Oh he was very good. Very good indeed…

Invariably at this time of the year my mind is drawn, through every media outlet, to the controversy of the holiday season. Christian icons begging people to boycott establishments that refuse employees the opportunity to say, “Merry Christmas,” the manger scene on public property, billboards placed side by side – one points to Jesus, the other to atheism – and on and on and on. Paling in comparison this year by the unspeakable tragedy in CT is that controversy, but worth noting is that the nation becomes no more congruous after such an evil act. And Christmas immediately becomes an outlet for our thoughts and emotions. Why now?!? How could anyone do this now? Those families are supposed to be planning vacations, family get togethers, Christmas Morning! Outrage is appropriate! Assigning extra incredulity by virtue of the season, perhaps allows us to find the amount of horror that our minds tell us is appropriate. Yet it never feels like enough. 9/11 left me speechless. I get offended when I hear ‘young folks’ giving the day less solemnity than it deserves – by my standards.
Then the whole 2nd amendment arguments start. Should my level of righteous anger over the incident trump your anger over the sure to ensue constitutional rights debates?
A live and let live mentality, in totality, is dangerous and is more about self aggrandizement than it is about love or freedom of choice. It’s only ever when discretion and necessary prejudice is applied that it can ever become productive for such goals.
This seems self evident to me as a Christian. Especially since it’s difficult if not impossible to find a law – any law – that doesn’t have its purpose rooted in morality. The basic idea that a moral law requires a moral code which requires an objective author is a theory that seems lost to the world at large, but with no firm source for morality, this country would degrade (is degrading?) to a quasi chaotic state. The flow of reason (while overly simplistic) dictates there be an objective beginning in order to reach any effective ends.
But again, the acres of gray area are out there…
9/11? We deserved that.
How can you say that?!
Grief before 2nd amendment debates, for dignity’s sake!
Without the 2nd amendment we’ll be seeing way more of this, so this needs to happen now!
That billboard is offensive and wrong!
So is yours!
Merry Christmas!
Happy Holidays!

So aren’t all these things about a freedom to choose? These three words inspire a whole New debate in the hearts of most Americans, but I’m talking about Freedom in Christ. And loosely American (common man) type freedoms.
But don’t we compel people by our arguments, driven by our convictions, to see our side? And frustration arises over the sheer fact that our obviously superior conclusion is not only rejected, but not even considered! Oh the Gall!

I find that a life rooted in Christ is more than sufficient to answer these issues, mostly by not answering them at all. Not like Christians don’t have their disputes, but a 1st Corinthians 13 Christian is, by biblical standards, on the right path. And reconciliation to God must happen before reconciliation (love) to man is possible.
My midlife crisis didn’t come in the form of a bruised ego causing me to want a younger car and a younger woman. It came in the form of revelation of a counterfeit faith and the need to make it more childlike. Some realize their mortality and want to cram more stuff into their life before they die. Some want more achievement. Either way it’s about feeling relevant. And as a Christian it, for me, is about being relevant to God. And as I renewed my commitment to God, with a deeper and hopefully ever maturing understanding of what exactly that entails, I remembered a sermon that my pastor gave about 16 years ago. He said that everyone, Christians included, have a heart problem. That our relationship with man and with God is always defined by where our heart is. My contribution to his sermon is this: Every encounter and experience that we have, is an opportunity to live off of every word that comes out of the mouth of God. Every conflict, celebration, event, everything. The method of the world is addictive. It’s easy. It’s ego boosting. It allows us to join in a cause that ‘regular’ people celebrate! It can be ego boosting. Important. It can seem right. But it’s bad cholesterol. It’s a slow painful fade into the world of ‘heart disease.’
Enter the Casual Christian. The ‘C & E’ Christian. He (or she) is a ‘good person’… occasionally inappropriate but tries to be morally sound… tries to go to church… and raises his/her kids right. But the casual Christian lives in the realm of the world. And in the philosophy of its ways. In some ways, the casual Christian is the heart patient. The question is, are we physicians? Or your church as a whole… is it a clinic? Or a pub. My wife is forever being approached by people – sometimes complete strangers – who are desperate for hope. For whatever reason they seem drawn to her. So does she offer platitudes? Or real hope? Does she say, “Just do good and you’ll be ok! Go to church twice a year! Live and let live!”
Yet on what level are we complicit in this mindset when we put such an incredible weight of importance on a holiday that was neither mandated (nor suggested) by the bible nor created by the church! We make Christmas such the end all to Christianity that it’s almost impossible to not believe that you are doing more than you’re doing by simply observing the day! By simply going to church on this most holy and absolving of days, why, you must really be showing God something!
I contend that our overinflated value of this day is a misguided placebo given to people who need real medicine. Or at the very least, is cholesterol meds to a people who really just need a new diet! We offer what my doctor unwittingly offered me: a permission slip. We make Christmas so invaluable that participation once a year must cover a multitude of sins. And for a safety net, we have Easter. We scoff at ‘happy holidays’ and ‘spring break…’ Really? That’s what they are! Man made and church made traditions – Christmas and Easter.
Don’t misunderstand. The birth of Christ and His resurrection are two days that I look forward to celebrating formally all year round! I’m saying the significance is not lost on me. No two events are more detailed in the entire bible. The historical remembrance is paramount. But in my humble opinion, I think the celebration of these days is optional. The more mandatory we make it, the more of a stumbling block it becomes. People are left feeling like their hearts aren’t in danger because their cholesterol is in check because their taking their pills twice a year, as required. To hell with the diet. I’m on meds.

And that’s what went through my mind as I told my doctor, “No.” I decided a diet and exercise were more beneficial than the prescription permission slip to eat whatever you want. That discretion and self control were better and more beneficial than casual gluttony followed by a regiment of guilt erasing pills.
Ultimately, the same could be said for weekly sermons, bible studies, youth groups, etc. And the same would be true.
So this is where I wind up. That it all starts with a proper perspective. That insisting that Christmas is essential actually may have a stumble block effect on non Christians. That the Christian walk is about daily choices and not quick fixes – (an inevitability if we place sacrament status on Christmas!)

We should be allowed, as a free people, to observe this holiday.  Unfortunately, private businesses should be allowed to restrict the language of their employees but I expect that the free market will dictate to some degree the measure of the convictions of the owners of such businesses.  We should have the freedom to aver our beliefs, both patriotic and non patriotic, as the subjective case may be.  And we should have the freedom to believe or not believe in the absolute necessity of celebrating Christmas. 

As long as freedom allows, I plan on observing Christmas and Easter with my family.  But we need to be careful to not push people past the ever present sin that – apart from Christ – separates us eternally from God.  And I think that’s what we sometimes do by over emphasizing these holidays.  Catachismic dogma aside, this is where I stand. 

By the way.  My cholesterol is now normal – sans medication!

Happy Holidays!

*Disclaimer* – Not even my wife agrees with this blog post in total, but she does in principal.  This is a very difficult ideal to iterate without generating controversy so please take it in the spirit in which it was drafted!

Merry Christmas!