Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reflections for the Twelve Days of Christmas: First Day

First Day: Christmas as Promise

One of my godson’s kids wrote Santa with a confession and a hope: even though she had been somewhat naughty this year (her younger brother’s fault, entirely), she very much wanted the list of toys attached. Her tone was one of confident trust that Santa would understand her frank confession and fulfill his promise of largesse to children who are Nice. 

Macy’s big holiday advertising campaign centers on “a million reasons to believe.”  Believe in what? Any or all of the following: Savior, Santa, peace, goodwill, the Christmas (or Holiday) spirit. Believe in the manifold promises of the season. 
Christmas, even in its secular “Holiday” forms, is all about promises. The promise of a Savior. The promise that St. Nick, Kinderklaus, Santa will come through again to grant wishes.  The promise of “peace, good will toward men.” The promise that if we’re really in the right mood we can tune in to the “spirit” of the season.

Two Ancient Promises

Fair enough, to give the Season its due, for this mood of believing in promises is rooted in two ancient promises. First, the pledge of a Savior “thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins . . . and his kingdom will have no end” which gave birth to the Christian celebration. Second, the even older Solstice promise, in the dark of the year, of the return of light and warmth as the days lengthen, which gave birth to the European Winterfest (Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia) in which Christmas itself is nested.

My mother declined to make any absolute promises to us as children, unlike her mother-in-law who promised much and fulfilled, well, some. In reality, our lives do slowly accumulate unfilled promises, small and great. More and more the intensity of the Holiday Season as well as Christmas for Christians seems to me to arise out of our yearning for the fulfillment of promises in the midst of a world where so many of them are either broken or turn out to be ephemeral.

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”  We yearn.
“Peace on earth, and mercy mild.”  We hope.
“When....shall come the age of gold.”  We want so much to believe.

Santa often comes through for kids, so the promise often works. Believing the Yuletide promise also comes easily, so long as there is food and fuel enough to make it alive until the earth springs green again. The promise of Savior and Peaceable Kingdom are a bigger stretch, granted the state of the world and the human soul. Yet the message of the angels is not just a promise, but a challenge: believe. 

On this the fate of the world may well depend.   

Next: Christmas as Problem

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