Exactly Who Took Christmas from Whom? And Do We Really Need to ‘Reclaim’ It?

Jason Micheli —  November 26, 2012 — 1 Comment

One of John Wesley’s mandates to his pastors was that they be ‘punctual’ in all things. In fact, this is one of the vows the bishop asked me to make at my ordination- along with another Wesley mandate to avoid unseemly debt, which we all sniggered at, weighed down as we all were/are by student loans.

I’ve been thinking about that mandate to be punctual, to never tarry too long, to never be late. Specifically, I’ve been wondering if maybe Wesley’s point should be applied to more than just church meetings and worship services?

Perhaps JW’s mandate forbids us Wesleyans from being behind the times too?

Just as my vow to be punctual in all things meant I shouldn’t show up late to a Trustees meeting, I wonder if maybe it also means my Church should stop- routinely- showing up late to the marketplace of ideas, should stop tarrying so long in the past that it misses present cultural trends, only to belatedly make an appeal for ‘relevance’ that inevitably smacks desperately of just the opposite?

Alright so I’m a Tamed Cynic, but I’m still a cynic. How can I not be?

For example,  the United Methodist Church has recently jumped on the Bill O’Reilly ‘Take Back Christmas’/Mike Slaughter ‘Christmas Is Not Your Birthday’/Emergent Church ‘Advent Conspiracy’ bandwagon….several years behind the curve.

Before you know it we’ll be putting ‘Lord I Lift Your Name on High’ in our hymnals…oh wait…never mind.

If the UMC truly wanted to get ahead of the curve, we’d ditch the Heifer Project model and praise regular ole materialistic gift-giving as a way both to boost the economy and model the inner life of the Trinity in which Father, Son and Spirit are constantly exchanging gift and grace to one another (maybe that’s a bit heady for Xmas).

Macro-picture rant: the very suggestion we should Reclaim/Take Back Christmas implies that everyone who celebrates ‘Christmas’ (ie, the culture) is Christian. That lie, and it always was a lie, died sometime during the Ike Administration if not at Plymouth Rock. Christmas is the story of the incarnate God revealed in the flesh of a peasant baby to a shamed teenage mother in a small pocket of the globe to the very least of society and was ignored, written-off or outright rejected by…people like you and me.

Not to mention the whole Reclaim/Take Back language suggests none of us participate or encourage the very capitalist system from which we need to rescue Christmas (as if Jesus needed our rescuing…).

So let everyone do what they will at Xmas time. Maybe we Christians should just worry about how we- not others- celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation.

Anyways, here’s a post I could’ve written myself by a Jesus Lover/Cynic after my own heart:

Am I the only one who is shaking my head at what our friends at Rethink Church are doing this season? The marketing arm of the United Methodist Church is now joining in the battle to “Reclaim Christmas.” It was bad enough that the whole Rethink Church thing happened at almost exactly at the same time that famous chicken join (not the homophobic one) launched their “Unthink” campaign in the same font and colors.

It is quite possible that the words “rethink” and “Christmas” put together are almost as tired and loaded as “Christmas” is by itself. No comment yet from evangelical publishing house Zondervan who started using this marketing gimmick on Facebook in 2009. Or from Benjamin Husted and family who wrote a book about it in 2006. Or from Keep Christmas Alive who started it in 2005. Or the RETAILERS (you get that?) who tried to do the same in 1999.

One ally may be a woman that I helped by loading her groceries in her car in 1993. She had this bumper sticker on her 1977 Plymouth. I’d imagine she is delighted. But she’s also likely dead, and the bumper sticker had little chance of surviving the Cash for Clunkers purge.

It is fitting for my church to be 20 years behind on this, because it is on everything else, too.

Seriously friends, what do we really need to “reclaim” about Christmas? For years, I’ve been one of those jerks who has been saying that if we need to reclaim anything it is Advent. It is impossible to understand what a “Christ” celebration means without also understanding why Christ came and will come again. It is impossible to get what the incarnation means without examining that for which your spirit and all creation longs.

Let the kids have Christmas. Let it be a cultural thing. Let Macy’s decorate their store windows on Halloween. Let the city put up a giant tree on public property. Sing trite songs about other dead and gone things like sleigh bells and Yul Brynner Yule logs. And have fun with it.

But, if we are going to claim to be followers of Jesus, we also must know our Christ. And a marketing campaign isn’t going to make that happen any more than “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” made the UMC open and affirming of all people. So let’s save the clever stuff for people selling cars and bunless chicken sandwiches, and let’s get back to the business at hand: promoting personal piety and spreading scriptural holiness. Like Advent, that is something worth reclaiming.

Here’s the full post.

Jason Micheli

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  1. What If Materialism at Christmastime is Actually a Good Thing? | Tamed Cynic - November 27, 2012

    […] I made an off-hand observation that in hindsight I think has some theological […]

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