Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas and Other Things Forgotten

We have now entered a time of year that, like everything else in our society, has become over dramatized and over politicized. We've entered The Christmas Season. Yes, I'm afraid the capitals are required in this case for that is what we've done to this time of year. Now, let me preface this entry by telling you that I am a devout Roman Catholic. My friends will tell you that I'm one of the most religious people you are likely to encounter, although you will never hear me preach religion nor will you ever see me attempt to convert one who is not Christian. With that in mind, allow me to begin.

I have come to dislike all that has become of this season. Now, I'm not at all afraid of "atheists trying to wipe out Christmas" as some have professed. I am not concerned about the ACLU attempting to separate Church from State. I really don't care about pink flamingos next to a Santa Claus in front of the city hall in one corner of Rhode Island. (True story, actually, but that's a different topic.) No, what worries me most is that we Christians destroyed Christmas years ago. So today's post is a bit of a history lesson. It is an attempt to remind us of why the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus exists in the first place.

The word "consensus" hardly describes anything that took place in the early Christian Church. Put three Church leaders together and you had three differing views. The squabbles started days after the Crucifixion and they continue through to the present day. By the beginning of the 4th century, one major debate in the Church centered around the divinity of Jesus. There were those that held to the notion of Jesus as Divine Savior, the Son of God. Other equally prominent members of the Church held to the strict humanity of Jesus without a shred of Divinity. This debate became one of the 8 major topics discussed at the world's first ecumenical council, The First Council of Nicaea, convened by the Emperor Constantine in 325 AD.

The findings of this Council are still recited in Catholic and Episcopal Churches today. If you've attended either of these masses, you may recognize the words "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten not made." With those words, the Council of Nicaea affirmed and proclaimed the divinity of Jesus, and that has been the official teaching of Christian Churches for the last 1682 years. I've often wondered how many people sitting in church each Sunday understand those words or know why they were written in the first place. The Nicaean Creed, as it is known, is not a prayer - it is a profession of the fundamental beliefs of the early Christian Church, and it is the first written profession to officially proclaim the divinity of Jesus.

The problem, though, is the Church started to focus entirely on the Divinity and not on the humanity of Jesus. For Him to atone for the sins of mankind, His humanity is theologically just as necessary as His divinity. It is for this reason that by 350 AD, Churches around the world started to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus - what we today call Christmas. It was to serve as a reminder of the human birth, and therefore the humanity, of the Divine savior. Note that the date of the celebration varied from May 20, to March 25, to December 25 depending on where you were, but the actual date is irrelevant. The importance was on the birth itself, not the date of birth.

This is what we have forgotten today. All of the trappings you see around you - Christmas trees, lights, snowmen, wreaths, candles, plastic Santa Clauses complete with reindeer, etc. - have absolutely nothing to do with the reason for our celebration of Christmas. In fact, all of those are deeply rooted in pagan symbolism more in tune with other festivals celebrated at the same time of the year, but rest assured that none of them are Christian symbols. Even the giving of gifts has turned into a capitalistic fiasco, an exercise in greed and commercialism that has absolutely no place at all in the celebration of any religious holy day.

What we have done is taken the celebration of the most humblest of births, the symbol of the poorest of the poor, and turned it into the most obscene commercial circus imaginable. What offends me as a Christian far more than any "Happy Holidays" political correctness drivel, or the removal of creches from city halls is what we Christians have done to this celebration. Rather than a remembrance day for the humble birth of Christ Divine, we have turned this holy day into a day of gluttony, a day of greed, a day that is diametrically opposed to all that Jesus and early Christianity stood for. We do not need to reclaim Christmas from atheists, we need to reclaim it from ourselves.

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