This is my third of three editorials on the 'Season of Giving'. In two previous editorials I've shared about the different historical, cultural and religious influences that collaborate to bring about the way we celebrate this today. I have deliberately left the central Christian celebration of Christmas until now, so it would find itself in the month in which it occurs.
The true historical account of Christmas is found in reading the Bible. If you don't have one, it is the number one best seller in history, so you could easily get one for Christmas as a gift for yourself or others. Just do an online search, or even better ask a local pastor about it, or a friend who is a Christian.
It is why the commemoration is called “Christ-mas”, or in Greek 'X-mas' (the X being the first letter in the word Χριστός, which means ‘Christ’). It is a gathering of gratefulness to our tremendous God, who came to us in the form of a little child, in order to live a life like us, so we would know He related to our struggles, and we could identify with Him.
If one was to look at the reasons behind this 'Season of Giving', as I shared in my previous editorials, you can see that the problems people were trying to address through their yearly observances, were never permanently removed. The yearly rituals were needed to appease the temperamental nature of their deities. These beliefs would basically extort sacrifices from the fear-ridden minds of people, time after time. Never permanently removing the irrational impulses of fear, coldness of heart and such.
Nevertheless, in order to remove those very impulses, Christ sought us, so now we celebrate His life of Love, and pay it forward to others, in gratefulness. Being a sacrifice of unlimited value, because of the nature of His life being God Himself, Jesus acted as His own supplier of the vessel to contain the power of guilt, fear, anger and the like, which was in our inner life. That vessel was Himself. He died in a chosen act of Love, through the method of the cross, taking from within us and transferring to Himself the spiritual substance of sin, so we could be preserved and free from its influence permanently. Then He experienced the protective anger of God at the brutal effects of sin on us, and the pain of separation that went along with it, while winning peace for us with the source of Life, God.
So this child, once grown, acted protectively on mass, as an immune system which has to kill a virus, but that virus was too strong for us to beat, so it needed to be transferred to another host, in this case Himself, then His immune system could destroy the virus of sin. Once the immunities were unleashed and the virus destroyed, the inoculation was prepared, and drawn from his own blood.
All that remains is for us to ask for the inoculation of Jesus himself, from God. It's good science, if you'll see it, it has been left up to us what we will do with the offer of a healthy spiritual immune system.
The fact that it remains in the world around, is due to our lack of acceptance of His effects in our hearts on a personal basis. Like any disease, it is cured one cell at a time, as the vaccination spreads through the body. If we accept the life of this child, born in the darkest time of the year, to provide Life; the warmth of connection through our mutual association with Him; and the rule of Love in our hearts, Gods gift of substitution could then individually destroy what harms us inside, and collectively, there may be a little more “Peace on Earth and Good will toward men” all year round.
Merry X-mas, ya'll!
Last week I shared about the origins of some of the components of 'Christmas time', which you and I celebrate, in this “Season of Giving'. As with most things we are not as original as we would like to think. We borrow from our past. For instance, if nobody had invented the car you wouldn't be driving a vehicle now, so no matter how young or how old we are, we need to see that we owe many things to those who've gone before.There are many influences that have collaborated for us to arrive at the way we all celebrate Christmas. Of course there are variations, but the majority enter into the common experience of the 'Christmas season', and despite what some may believe, it is not the commercialized aspect that I'm referring to.
For instance in our home we start the celebration of the 'Season of Giving' in early October for 'Thanksgiving'. That's when we turn on our lights, hydro bills be 'dashed', this is more important, it's a 'giving thing', to the world around. We believe that those who gave their lives, in much the same way as our Saviour “Christ”, in order to procure peace and good will for those whom they love, and for all who will enjoy these benefits afterward, should not be denied a thorough acknowledgement. One day is not enough. From those who gave there lives discovering our land, to those who have fought to secure it continually, a recognition of there unique nature, a mix of boldness seeking to secure the liberty of the quaint, should be celebrated by encouraging our whole culture to live a life of giving of themselves. This starts with commemorative celebrations like Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day (very similar to Veterans Day in the US), continuing on through Christmas, all merged into a 'Season of Giving'. This is what we have, if you take a look, and it's a good thing.
For those who do the Santa thing at Christmas, ours is the Hungarian version on the night of December 5th, being the eve on which Szent Mikulás (or Miklós), their version of Saint Nicholas, traditionally is thought to visit the homes of Hungarian children. By the way, did you know that the real Saint Nicholas was a Turkish monk and a firm believer in our Saviour. As my wife is Hungarian on her father's side, we start our Christmas celebrations very early in December. Then there is the Standard, Dec 24th and 25th,Western placement of Christmas, in order to incorporate all of the good aspects of previous celebrations at this time of year (see last weeks editorial on the pre-Christ, Greek and Roman celebrations). But in our family, to challenge the cold of the winter, and all things being equal, so as not to give the cold attitude of the 'Humbug spirit' any place, we celebrate the Ukrainian time of Christmas as well, as that is the cultural heritage on my fathers side. This is placed exactly twelve days after our Western one.
Humm..., 'Twelve days', that reminds me of a Christmas song. Happy Giving Tide.
For three or four weeks now, since the onset of the colder changes in the weather, I have been hearing the humbug spirit trying to push its way into the most wonderful commemorative holiday of our calendar. Well I say, “Humbug to the Humbug spirit!”. If we are to look over a quick history of things that have brought us to the “Season” of giving, than it can help us to understand, what we as a culture celebrate this time of year. From Thanks Giving through Veterans day to Christmas through to New Years there is an undeniable desire to show appreciation for the kindnesses we have inherited, with a drive to sharing that with others.
In a time when electricity did not exist, when the sun had gone down for the day, and darkness had cast its blanket everywhere, it was very dark. So much that people feared to even go out in that darkness, which further added to their feelings of isolation and vulnerability. Today, we lose touch with how deep that darkness can get, with ready available light surrounding us, produced by man. However, if any of you readers have grown up on a farm, far away from the ambient street lights, signs and automobile headlights along the roads at night, then you may have experienced this kind of darkness in part, but still not to the degree these people would have. The darkness and cold, in the then known world, engulfed their lives for an entire season, each year. The limited light in this length of time would leave its effect in their hearts and minds as well, casting doubt on whether things would ever change. This is a spiritual darkness that many experience today in this season. So, to seek to affect that change, the people, of Greece in Hellenistic style worship, and then finally the Romans in theirs, would seek the intervention of their deities.
In the Hellenistic period, at this time of year, there was a celebration for their deity (Kronos), who, according to their convictions, was responsible for the effective sowing of their eventual harvest, and therefore for their security over the many shortening days and dark months of winter. Alone, cold and in the dark, it was easy to succumb to starvation.
So, out of thanks-giving in part, but more for a reason which would push people out of their cloistered existence, they celebrated what the conquering Romans called 'Saturnalia', around their deity (Saturn), which they embraced for many of the same reasons. This celebration was characterized by; the worship of their deity, feasts with friends and family; and in order of priority, the exchanging of gifts of provision like candles, statuettes and pottery.
I can't help but notice similarities in our celebration of Christmas today. We get together with friends and family, the obvious need of 'Thigmotaxis' (see Geoff Carpentier's column in this same issue-Walk Softly); we exchange gifts, many of which are figurines or trinkets, and practical things like pots and pans; all around a tree covered with light, just like the candles exchanged. The candles were a measure of defiance against the physical darkness and cold, the food shared was in defiance of the threat of starvation, the statuettes were a reminder of beauty and worship, and the pottery was an accommodation of the practical, the fact that, even more than today, things are temporary and need to be renewed, back then it was mostly due to breakage, today it is mostly due to our disposable lifestyle.
We treat things more casually today, but the things of the past have a way of holding on, even when we don't intend them to. To paraphrase from Socrates, this is kind of an axiom of mine “The un-examined life is the un-lived life and the un-lived life is accomplishing nothing.”
But hey, did I forget to mention the worship factor in Christmas? Well we'll have to dig into to that at a later date, to do it justice. Sufficeth to say, Christmas is not just a commercial holiday, if you pay attention to what it truly is, you will see a flow of cultural influence, in your life, reaching back farther than you knew. There is something to being in the moment, but if you miss it's true content, than you've missed the moment altogether
So this year, why don't your enter in, and spend time on your gifts, so they will be a true provision for a need in someones life, reflect on and treasure the time that will come with family and friends as an opportunity to bring the security of touching each others lives, assurance through provision, and reminders of what life is about. Then, during this season of diminished light, colder weather and sometimes colder people, and concern for provision because of fickle job security, you may see better, the purpose of Christmas time being “the season of giving”.