Monday, December 25, 2017

You don't have to go big, and you don't have to go home.

"Go big or go home" is the quintessential motto of our times. Everything has to be bigger, louder, faster. Everything has to be covered with more bling, more grandiosity, more hype. Everything has to be mega, everything has to be sexy, everything has to be "life-changing." As for home, well, "going home" means you're out of the game. Home is where you're sent for being inadequate to win the big prize.

Whatever happened to quiet? Whatever happened to slow? Whatever happened to the beauty of the ordinary? Whatever happened to plain and simple? Whatever happened to tranquility?

Hear now the Christmas meditations of Cardinal John Henry Newman:
THERE are two principal lessons which we are taught on the great Festival which we this day celebrate, lowliness and joy. This surely is a day, of all others, in which is set before us the heavenly excellence and the acceptableness in God’s sight of that state which most men have, or may have, allotted to them, humble or private life, and cheerfulness in it. If we consult the writings of historians, philosophers, and poets of this world, we shall be led to think great men happy; we shall be led to fix our minds and hearts upon high or conspicuous stations, strange adventures, powerful talents to cope with them, memorable struggles, and great destinies. We shall consider that the highest course of life is the mere pursuit, not the enjoyment of good.
But when we think of this day’s Festival, and what we commemorate upon it, a new and very different scene opens upon us. First, we are reminded that though this life must ever be a life of toil and effort, yet that, properly speaking, we have not to seek our highest good. It is found, it is brought near us, in the descent of the Son of God from His Father’s bosom to this world. It is stored up among us on earth. No longer need men of ardent minds weary themselves in the pursuit of what they fancy may be chief goods; no longer have they to wander about and encounter peril in quest of that unknown blessedness to which their hearts naturally aspire, as they did in heathen times. The text speaks to them and to all, “Unto you,” it says, “is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
It's Christmas morning as I write this. I noticed while watching football on TV yesterday that there's some sort of "reality" show out there that features competition for the most grandiose Christmas decorations. Who can deck their house with more lights, synced to holiday music, able to be seen from space, etc. That, in a nutshell, is what Christmas in America seems to have become.

I think you'll find that as our culture drifts further and further from its Christiandom moorings, its celebration of some sort of Secularized Christmas will become more and more tricked up with gaudy display, all designed to present you with one and only one choice: that is, the choice between the myth of salvation by acquisition, or the perceived humiliation of not having all that your neighbors have. To signal to the world that you're in the game, you might want to add that 20-feet high blow-up Rudolph to your front yard seasonal display.

But of course, nothing could be more unChristmas than all that. [I could go on my usual rant against commercialism here, and how it is ultimately dehumanizing us all, but I'll try to keep that in check.]  It's as if we were all born into some giant fun house at the carnival, and don't even realize that out beyond the colored lights and the amped-up music there remains the real world. Or at the least the possibility of the real. But who even cares anymore?

Christmas is about humility. It is to shepherds that the angels come--mere boys--not to kings or corporate CEOs. And if you want to understand humility, just look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. You'll find her story in the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. Or look to Jesus. The first chapter of the Gospel according to John might help here, or even Paul's tribute to Jesus, at the start of the 2nd chapter of his Letter to the Philippians.

Let me put it to you this way: the world does not want you to be at peace. So it will do all it can to keep you from hearing the gentle rap at your door when the Prince of Peace comes calling. This culture of go-getting, of brashness and self-promotion, of keeping up with the neighbors and putting on a good show, is killing us. It's frying our spiritual nerve endings, numbing our senses, keeping us trapped in the funhouse. But off in the night there shines a star, and down below, forced to shelter in a stable, a young maiden is giving birth to a child. That child will rattle the foundations of empire by going to a Cross. Praise Him!

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