Posted by: smstrouse | December 14, 2013

Happy Holidays, for X sake!

I have just two words for the “news” commentators whipping up the “war on Christmas” frenzy: Shut Up! 

Oooh, not very Christ-like, I know. Or maybe it is. Picture Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables. I, too, am pissed off at the corruption of a spiritual tradition by political and corporate interests. Especially when there are so many reasons we need to be focused on the real message hidden away under the craziness of the season.

A case in point: a colleague walked into my office this week, and everything about his body language said that he was carrying a heavy load of something. He told me that a friend back East had been in a serious car crash when his car spun out on an icy road. He’d sustained some minor injuries, but his wife had been killed.

This was a heavy load. But there was more to it.  Not only was he feeling grief and the usual worry about what he could possibly say or do for his friend, he was also asking some bigger questions. One of them was how to reconcile a tragedy like this with the season of Christmas. It’s all about peace and joy, right? The birth of hope and promise. What do you do when a tragedy makes a mockery of the bright and shiny lights, glittery gifts and even our songs of “Joy to the World?”

During our conversation, I shared my story of the Christmas of 1995, when three people close to me died within days of each other. The closest was my 19-year-old nephew, Kris, who died on St. Nicholas Day. I drove back home to be with my family, only to be greeted with the news of the imminent death of the 5-year-old son of friends in NJ from meningitis. That was followed by the (not unexpected) death of a family friend from cancer. As overwhelming as it all was, I appreciated being asked to co-officiate at her funeral.

In my homily I described my drive from Buffalo to Philadelphia, in which I’d had five hours to think about what I could possibly say to my brother and sister-in-law. The thing that kept running through my head, over and over again, was, “God, be with them; God, be with them; God, be with them; God, be with them; God, be with them; God, be with them.”

But it wasn’t until I was working on the homily that light finally dawned. God with them. God with us. Emmanuel. God with us. Wow! The whole thing about Christmas is to remind us that God is with us.  Even in the midst of exile, oppression, pain and death. Especially in the midst of exile, oppression, pain and death.

Did this revelation take away the grief of that weekend and beyond? No. Christmas isn’t about denial. Does it make us passive, waiting for God’s intervention in fixing the causes of oppression, pain and death? No. Christmas is about peacemaking and justice-building. But when tragedy intrudes in our holiday festivities, we can fall back on the simple truth of God-with-us. We can rest and cry in the gentle arms of Love.

So again I say to the “War on Christmas” noisemakers: Shut up. It’s not about Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. But this time, I say it with a little more kindness. As in, shut up and listen for the voice of Emmanuel, whispering “I am with you.”

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

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Responses

  1. You have nailed it!

    My children, now grown and parents, are victims of divorce. I taught them that Christmas Day is not the day Jesus was born,; it is simply one day on which people celebrate, and that we could celebrate Christmas any day that we were together. Once it was in March.

    Now, I simply say, “Happy Holy Days.”

    Like


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