Does Christmas Really Need to be Saved?

Holiday movies and TV programs often have a crisis that entertains and is familiar to us – holiday stress. The stories go like this: a family enthusiastically gears up for a memorable Christmas experience. Next, they over extend themselves and many things go wrong threatening the perfect Christmas. Efforts to salvage the holiday deepen the problems. Holiday stress increases, chaos breaks out and the family looks and acts ugly. These parts of the story are the most humorous and entertaining parts. Before it’s too late, though, everyone comes to their senses and, to a greater or lesser degree, find a kernel of the “true meaning” of the holiday. It’s a feel good moment and, in the end, Christmas is saved . . . and ‘sentimentalized’.

In a sense, these stories unknowingly reflect salvation history (all stories do). The initial joyful enthusiasm and holiday spirit is paradise. The ensuing chaos is man’s fall and wrestle with sin and self. The resolution – the warm and pleasant feeling – is salvation and redemption. These stories are poor and shallow reflections of the true story of salvation, but in our consumer culture they entertain and make us feel good. These things rule in a consumer culture. We are drawn in to partnering with our culture to sentimentalize Christmas and, even worse, to play a role in saving Christmas.
Meanwhile, the true and life-giving content of Christmas (which doesn’t need saved by the way) is given token, if not minimal, attention. The scriptural, theological, liturgical and moral realities of Christmas are squeezed out by the sentimental, commercial and self-indulgent pageantry produced by a world struggling with peace and stability.

The holiday movies and TV programs work to an extent because the narrative is familiar enough to our experience. The holidays – which encourage us to consume, consume, consume – promise much at the start, wear us down in the middle, an in the end utterly consume us. Though we may have had sincere intentions to keep a better focus on our church life, we find ourselves stressed-out, burned-out, fatigued, and out of fuel.

At Holy Trinity, we’ve tried to make increases to three areas of our Christian life to help us stay focused on the beauty and mystery of Christmas amidst all the hustle, bustle, distraction and silliness of the holidays. Recognizing that it is not Christmas that needs to be saved, but rather our own minds and heart, we’ve resolved to try and do the following during the 40 day Nativity Fast:

1. Keeping the Nativity Fast. There is much confusion in our modern world about the benefits of fasting. Yet the Church is wise and experienced in this world. She knows how to feast, but she also keeps telling us: be still, be silent, and watch what you consume because life is with God.

2. Increasing our attendance at Saturday evening Vespers. Saturday evening Vespers begins with a silent censing of the sanctuary – a silence as at the creation of the world with God’s Divine Word. The Liturgy on Sunday ends with: “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly kingdom, we have found the true faith . . .” The Saturday/Sunday cycle of liturgical services always pulls us away from the shallow and impoverished narrative of the world and into the true reality of God’s life. During the winter months, Saturday evening Vespers begin at 4:00 pm.

3. Reading the Gospels. For the second year in a row, many of us have taken up the task of finding 10 minutes in our day to read the gospels. We don’t read to memorize verses or to be proud Christians, or to find ways to argue with others. We read to have our minds and hearts shaped by God. We simply show up to be still and to read and allow God to take us where He will. It’s a small sacrifice of time and energy that we give to God.

Now that Christmas is even closer, how will you stay focused on your Church life and stave off holiday stress?

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