I think that this is perhaps the first year when I really understood that you don’t have to be a commericialized Christian to get caught up in all the holiday busyness. It’s all too easy to be so busy doing good things, necessary things, and letting these days of Christmas pass by without much thought. Yes, I intentionally typed “days.” Traditionally, Christmas has twelve of them. And, given that I celebrate Christmas longer than most people I know, you would think that it would be easier to keep my mind focused on Christ. Usually that has indeed been the case. This year–I suppose the fault lies somewhere amid family obligations, an early end to Christmas break, and my own propensity to get distracted and postpone my devotional life until a few minutes before midnight.
So maybe the problem–or, at least, my problem–has been less about commercialism and more about simply being human. It’s why we have holy days, after all. If we didn’t set aside a time to remember the important things, most of us would have a tendency to forget.
I have never heard of The Giver being connected with Christmas, but reading it during Advent brought to mind the reasons behind Christmas. For those who haven’t read The Giver, it is a rather dystopian children’s story (although it really isn’t appropriate for younger children) about a community that has managed to nearly obliterate things like pain and uncomfortable weather. Everything is organized, including employment, and every child is apprenticed during his or her twelfth year. Jonas is assigned to a man he comes to call the Giver–a counselor to the community and the only person who “remembers” the old way of living, both the pleasurable things and the painful ones. When the Giver transmits all of his memories to Jonas, then Jonas is to take his place. But when Jonas and the Giver come to realize that their neighbors’ state of induced tranquility is harmful, they come up with a plan to spread the memories to the entire community.
Christmas–all twelve days of Christmas–was intended to do exactly that. And even though we all have a tendency to allow everyday life to get in the way of our celebrating the season with full attention, Christmas certainly does make us pay more attention to the things we would usually forget. At what other time during the year do we really sit down and make ourself think about what the Incarnation means? When else do we really ponder the great mystery of God becoming man?
Christ Himself came to make us remember. Adam and Eve knew what God was like, but once they were tempted by the serpent, they began to forget. Eventually most of their descendents lost much of their knowledge about what He is like. As G. K. Chesterton noted in The Everlasting Man (a wonderful book to read during Christmas, by the way), many so-called polytheistic religions have a background of monotheism. Above all the myths–easily told to those with questions–there was typically a belief in a supreme creator god who ruled the lesser and more humanlike “gods.” But people rarely have talked much about Him–after all, they have forgotten most of what they knew about Him, beyond His creation of the world.
Christ came for a world filled with people who had forgotten what God was like. Even those of Abrahamic descent had forgotten a great deal about God, despite having the scriptures, if the Jewish religious leaders are any indication. The world needed to remember. What would it be like if God walked among men again, as He did in the Garden? If He gave them stories to tell about Him, instead of about imaginary gods? Jesus, “the image of the invisible God,” showed us. “He was in the form of God…but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6, ESV).
If Christ came to remind us, surely we should make more effort to remember.