Sunday, December 19, 2004

Christmas Day Advocate 2004

(Your two choices follow; go with whichever fits or contrasts best!)

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Christmas and Meaning
Jeff Gill

Many comment on the growing secularization of the public celebration of Christmas. Music on TV, public images in store windows and civic displays, all seem emptied of what those who call themselves Christian would maintain as "the reason for the season:" The birth of Jesus in humble yet marvelous surroundings, and the meaning of the life that baby lived for the world.

The issue has its points, but it can be interesting to look at the attempts to fill the manger shaped hole left in Christmas festivity by making it "the holiday season."

For instance, the songs. When songs about Christ and Mary are called out of bounds, the replacements are usually, from "White Christmas" in 1942 to the more recent ballad "Sending You a Little Christmas," about Home. Whether looking for Home or trying to get back there wistfulness goes deep around that longing for . . . well, a place where you can feel at Home.

Or the images. Pictures of Christmas-ey stuff that isn’t Bethlehemocentric are tied up with a fantasy of How Things Once Were. Santa talking on a wood-cased, cabled earpiece phone; writing his lists with quill pens; even riding in a sleigh! The images of this season are bound up with wooden toys (handmade, natch), mulled wine, and Grandma’s cookie recipe.

So even in the midst of attempts to secularize, to domesticate this essentially religious observance to a calendar date (with mainly retail significance), the basic need within each of us is to fill that God-shaped hole within us (as Pascal first said). We know deep down what is real and what is counterfeit satisfaction of our inmost desires, and our hearts are not made to let us settle for anything . . . anyone . . . less than their true fulfillment.

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An unexpected birth
Jeff Gill

An unexpected birth is usually not good news for anyone, not now and not long ago.

A child born with questionable paternity to a young woman is generally destined for hard times, low repute, and a bad end. Mary was such a young girl, tradition tells us, as young as 14 was when a young girl in Roman Palestine would be committed to a particular fiancé.

Joseph was likely an established tradesman who perhaps had married earlier, had older sons, and lost his wife as was so common in childbirth. Perhaps an aged man in his 30’s, he had the lineage of David but none of royal wealth.

His betrothed also had good genealogy, linked to the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem (witness her cousin Elizabeth and Zechariah, who served in the holy sanctuary and was father to a voice in the wilderness known as John the Baptizer). Still, there was little of comfort or security in her family background. An unexpected birth was not what their families would have welcomed. Complication, difficulty and embarrassment cloud the future.

Yet this advent, or "bringing forth," leads to the fulfillment of hope, the promise of greater glory to come, and joy everlasting, in the birth of a child anointed to lead God’s people.

How many awkward encounters do we fend off, which difficult moments do we avoid, without thought or reflection, that might lead to a birth of new hope, better days, and renewed living? What unexpected births around us might tug us and turn us away from our ruts and habits, to pause in thankfulness and anticipation?

The meaning of Christmas, in 2004 Ohio and in the days of Caesar Augustus, is that God’s good news is breaking forth into this world, born somewhere nearby, in some unexpected manner, inconvenient but always amazing.

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Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and occasional preacher around central Ohio.

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