I know, it’s not a very noble sounding title. But I will be clear at the outset. I am ranting here. Unapologetically. For thirty years in congregational ministry I tried to be P.C. about these things (pastorally correct). Christmas, you know, is not the time to offend anybody or cause disquiet. But I am presently on hiatus from the pulpit. And as the pastor in me takes a break, the curmudgeon has slipped out. Quite possibly he’s just a tad bit too happy to be free of restraints.
So if you like to limit your Christmas reading to things jolly, cozy, or uplifting, consider yourself warned. You might find my tone cynical, impatient, and even once in awhile on the verge of angry. I pray, though, you will also find it educational, true, and perhaps helpful to your holiday spirit. Yes, I just used the “h” word. Get over it.
For titles to my rants, I’ve chosen what I always wanted to use as sermon titles but (wisely, you might agree) never dared. I dare to use them now, snide as they may sound, to provoke your attention. And to remind myself I’m not trying to be your pastor here. Plus, in the end, if you don’t agree with my concerns, you’ll find it much more fun to react to a brazen, outspoken idiot than to a mild-mannered homilizer.
A curmudgeon, however, is not the same thing as a scrooge. A Christmas curmudgeon says the opposite of “humbug.” A curmudgeon says there is something important going on, worthy of your attention. And there are some significant precedents for curmudgery in inspirational writing. At times, particularly in rant #4, I fancy I’m writing in the vein of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. But that would be a bad comparison. I’ve not chosen to stick to Lewis’s genre of imaginative fiction. And I certainly can’t live up to Lewis’s gift for eloquence. I do hope, however, that as I bluntly address Christian foibles as Screwtape did, you will find traces of the same loving concern for integrity and genuineness in the way we Christians live our lives in the world.
What has provoked me? Whiners have provoked me. (They are worse than curmudgeons, mind you.) Christians can get whiny toward the end of the year. And whiny actually makes merry more difficult. But here’s an even graver problem: when Christians get whiny about Christmas they often disclose a foolish ignorance about their own holiday. I don’t think it creates a good witness for Christians to make fools of themselves at Christmas. That’s not at all what Paul meant by the foolishness of the Gospel. See? I used the word ‘holiday’ again. It’s an accurate word. It means holy day. It’s a good word. Happy Holidays to you!
I do believe that much about the contemporary Christmas season deserves our lament. But I believe this has nothing to do with non-Christians attempting “to take Christ out of the season.” I believe in many ways the church has been blind to an internal erosion of meaning and power in the feast season we call Christmas. I believe we have neglected to observe the roots of our own story and are confused about the truly destructive influences on much of our celebration. So we blame it on somebody else.
When it feels like I am stepping on toes, please be reassured of this:
- I know and accept that Christmas is not just a Church festival with important roots but a family holiday, inevitably evolving with many contemporary influences.
- I know that new traditions develop quickly, that they are important, and that even those practices which are not inline with Christian history or biblical patterns can be very meaningful, even holy, to families or churches.
- In the end, I fully support your right to celebrate Christmas any way you dang well please (as long as you don’t whine and claim to be speaking for me).
What I hope for is this:
- That both families and churches make fully conscious decisions on how to celebrate this second most important feast in the Christian year fully aware of Christian tradition instead of unconsciously following the flow of secular or commercial forces.
- That Christians boldly and even counter-culturally celebrate the radical birth of Christ in the midst of our present circumstances.
- That Christians quit griping about supposed ‘enemies’ who may choose to celebrate the season differently.
It’s always simpler to imagine a Grinch out there as culprit. But there comes a time to admit the truth of the matter. Nobody is stealing Christmas. Christians, in almost complete oblivion, have been letting it slip through their fingers. We have met the Grinch and the Grinch is us.
So here are my rants:
- Why You Can’t Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
- Why Christmas is NOT Jesus’s Birthday.
- Why Jesus is NOT the Reason for the Season.
- What the Grinch Stole Instead of Christmas.
- How to Keep the ‘Mas’ in Xmas.
I think they read best in order, but curmudgeons don’t expect to always get their way.