This week we move on to the third chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s podcast on chapter three.
In his podcast, Deacon Hyatt makes a statement that stuck in my mind. He says it in an off-hand way, but for some reason his statement kept bouncing around my head. I want to start with it before I dive into my thoughts on this chapter in the book.
You can’t put Christ back into Christmas without a Christian view of time. You can’t put the Resurrection back into Easter without a Christian view of time.
In recent years in the Christian circles I’ve inhabited, the first one in particular has been a big deal as people take offense over commercial retailers using the Happy Holidays salutation rather than saying Merry Christmas.
(In truth, it’s my impression that my tradition doesn’t really know what to do with the Resurrection, anyway. It’s sort of the adjunct event that proves that in their particular perspective on the Cross — which is the important thing — the payment has been accepted. The Resurrection itself is pretty anti-climactic and almost devoid of meaning. I once made the mistake of greeting one of our ministers, whom I do like, with the traditional Christian greeting on Easter, “Christ is risen!” I clearly confused him to the point that he didn’t know what to say. I felt pretty bad for doing it. I wasn’t being snarky or anything. It just bubbled out of me.)
But back to Christmas. Personally, the whole outrage struck me as pretty ridiculous. What possible difference does it make what sort of greeting retailers use? What does the ancient Christian celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord have to do with the American holiday — an orgy of consumption celebrating our wealth and propping up our economic system — beside a common name? Might as well eliminate even that vestige so there is no way the two can be confused. That was the part of my reaction I was able to put to words at the time.
Part of the reason the above quote stood out to me, I think, was because I recognized the futility of trying to put Christ back into Christmas in such a shallow way. After all, Christmas did not become a Christian holiday in isolation. Rather, pagan practices around the winter solstice were christianized by incorporating the celebration of the nativity of our Lord within a framework that sanctified all of time. And the nativity feast itself covered many days and the people prepared for feasting through a season of fasting. Instead, we throw ourselves into our cultural holiday of consumption and feast in many ways until, on the actual day, after we indulge ourselves in the “gifts” we have received and feasted one last, we collapse in exhaustion. We’re done.
Does anyone even remember the gifts you received last year? The year before? The year before that? In what way will retailers having their employees say Merry Christmas to you as you enter or leave their store put Christ back into that Christmas? Since this seems to matter deeply to many evangelicals, I’m sincerely curious. What possible difference does it actually make what store employees do or don’t say to the customers they are serving?
My tradition has rejected almost the entire framework of the Christian year, of Christian feasts, of Christian time. And then we wonder that our experience of time is no longer shaped by Christ, but rather by our culture? Without a Christian view of time, without a Christian practice of time, it’s not possible to sanctify the experience of time within a culture. Our ancestors knew what they were doing as they replaced a pagan experience of the cycles of time with a Christian one. By abandoning their wisdom, we are culpable for the “de-christianization” of time in American culture.
I was part of the group who began a sometime practice of the observance of Good Friday in our church, which I gather is fairly unusual within Baptist circles. We never did anything like a traditional Good Friday service. Rather, we put together different sorts of dramatic presentations. Even so, there were a number of people who considered it an odd thing to do. And we were pretty insistent at leaving each service with Christ’s death, a particularly dark moment. The Resurrection was for Sunday. On Friday, we wanted those participating to leave with a temporal experience of the death of Christ and the anticipation and longing for the Resurrection on Sunday. There was often some resistance or push back against that point, though never anything major. I never really understood why, but I think it has something to do with our adoption of a desire to escape time rather than make time Christian.
Well, I’ve meandered quite a bit and never really got to the book itself in this post. I’ll do that in the next one.