Tis the season…
A book in the bible I often return to is Ecclesiastes. A particular passage that comes to mind is:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
The funny thing about this time of year is that Christmas confuses the seasons and the times. It is far flung from the sacred holy day it once was. Christmas has become a bubbling cauldron of consumerism, suicide, crippling debt, and anxiety with a pinch of hope, a sprinkle of love, and a snifter of joy.
For me, Christmas has always been about presents. As a child, I would often wake up when it was still dark to find gifts at the end of the bed or under the tree. I’d be excited as I desperately hoped for pokemon cards or a new N64 game (The Legend of Zelda was my favourite). My parents spoiled me. My mum was a crafty character. She’d often hide or pretend that I wouldn’t get so much, and then when I least expected it, bam! There’d be a new bike or a new gaming console. Thanks, mum. As I got older and my parents separated, I started paying close attention to those around me. Especially in my young adult years, I saw that Christmas became less enjoyable for most people because putting together the perfect day was more important than people “just being.” But who can blame them? The perfect Christmas day is every other day of our lives turned up to eleven.
I love Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 because life is ordered, simple, and easy to understand. Life is hardly that easy, unfortunately. For many of us, every day is an anxiety-riddled, depressed-filled, hope-flickering Christmas day that we all try to manage. Like Christmas, Jesus fights for the spotlight in life. We often shove Him off into a dark corner after a quick chat as we eagerly unwrap our other presents.
I often feel at odds with myself because I know I should be enjoying the gift of Grace more than anything else. Still, the new God of War PS5 game seems so much more fulfilling in the moment. I mean, it’s not like Jesus carries around an axe and slays pagan gods with a broody demeanour. It’s not like Jesus shamed the other gods of the world, had victory over them, and now rules over them from Heaven. Sarcasm, by the way, because he is (weird side thought, who’d win in a fight between Kratos and Jesus…?). It doesn’t always feel like it when every other power inundates me daily. Like at Christmas, it is easy to lose sight of the One in whom love and life are found.
Recently, I had an argument with one of my bosses about the Christmas season. Knowing I’m a Christian, he asked, “what do you think of carols, Cam?” I don’t really like them, I replied, already exhausted with where this was going. Surprised, he said, why now? I rattled off a few reasons I don’t like carols or Christmas in general. I gave statistics on how suicide rates increase over the season, how much waste is used over the holiday, how much food we throw out, and how much crippling debt people go into. After my two-minute rant, he told me, “it’s not Christmas’s fault that people go into debt. They don’t have to spend that much money.” Of course, he was right. What shocked me, however, was not the answer he gave me. Instead, it was the gross oversimplification of the statement. Of course, people can decide not to go into debt, kill themselves, or waste food and rubbish. However, the question we should be asking ourselves is, “why are they?” Why do people need to spend money and ruin Christmas with petty fights that expose the ego? In reality, why do we do anything?
Why do we do anything? For the longest time, I believed that our motivations and intentions were driven by evil hearts that always wanted to do wicked and sinful things. I no longer believe this to be the case. Most of us do what we believe is right in seriously broken ways. There are expectations to this, I’m sure. However, I think most people don’t wake up and decide to murder, steal, cheat, or lie. Instead, our actions result from a lifetime (generations even) of decisions to good that often cause more harm than good. People are trapped in debt because they believe that spending so much money is the right thing to do. They’re afraid of the social consequences of not buying the latest Ipad for their partner or a family member. People kill themselves over the Christmas season because they’ve bought into the lie that what they lack is more important than who they are and the world would be better without them. There are narratives and systems, and ideas being told that cause people to do the things they’re doing. The human heart, of course, would find another way – no doubt. My point is that we can’t simply chalk actions up to the doctrine of original sin and total depravity (for the black and white Christian), or (for the more secular), we can’t just assume people make choices in a historical vacuum void of influence or trauma.
A closing thought. Perhaps we just need a reformation around Christmas, actually in life. As Christmas day was intended, every day should be participated in and meditated on in light of the Incarnation and what that means for humanity. What is that meaning? In the words of Jesus himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19).