A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Have Yourself a Subversive Little Christmas

In this Christmas season, the blogosphere is once again posting thoughts back and forth on the so-called "war on Christmas." I posted something on it myself last week. But I have been wondering how serious Christians square the radical and even subversive nature of the gospel with what seems to be our theologically trite observance of the yuletide season.

Here is my question-- Why isn't the celebration of the birth of the Lord of the World not considered to be politically subversive? Is it because Christianity has become domesticated on account of the fact that we Christians have been domesticated? Does that mean, therefore, that all our holy days have been domesticated? If the vast population truly understood what it meant for Jesus to usher in his kingdom that is reordering this world, would those persons want anything to do with Christmas carols and gift giving? If the rulers of this world could truly comprehend what kind of peace Jesus has come to bring, apart from their power and influence, would they welcome this child to Bethlehem?

King Herod understood better than we do, the subversive nature of Jesus' birth, which is why he sought to kill the newborn king. Those in power will always act in their interest to retain such power. This is not only true in a dictatorship, but also in a democracy where politicians will put off difficult votes until after the midterm elections and leave their campaign promises by the wayside once the people have cast their votes.

The religious leaders who turned Jesus over to Pilate also understood the subversive nature of his mission. No one gets crucified for simply running around the countryside telling people to love each other. No-- this Jesus needled the authorities to within an inch of their patience and in cleansing, or more accurately, in judging the Temple, Jesus in no uncertain terms challenged their power and authority.

Pilate and the Romans do not get off easy here either. Pilate may have washed his hands of Jesus' death, but he is the one who ordered it to be so. Pilate's interest in sparing Jesus was for no other purpose than it would anger Caiaphas, the high priest. Pilate hated Caiaphas and wanted to go left every time Caiaphas wanted him to go right. Pilate had sent many to death before. What was one more? Brute power and execution go hand in hand.

We read about those who opposed Jesus in the Gospels, but we never consider how we are repeating their roles even now. Herod and Pilate are always to be identified with someone else's government-- never our own. Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin are some other religion (Islam?) or another church tradition we think is dangerous because they are liberal or conservative. We would never admit to being the Pharisees ourselves. And then there is the crowd who followed him all over Galilee and Judea until his fortunes turned against him. Fair weather followers are no different from fare weather sports fans, except that being a fair weather follower is worse, as sports is a trivial matter.

If we celebrated Christmas in spirit and in truth, as we worship God in spirit and in truth, would our celebration be viewed as subversive? My observance of the Christmas season, like every year, will hardly be so radical. It will be another domesticated celebration and I will truly enjoy it. But as I celebrate, I will be unable to help but wonder if there is something lost in the observance, something that undermines the very lordship of the child we worship.

I will indeed have myself a merry little Christmas... and I will ponder why it is not more subversive.

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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


Richard H said...

Our church usually has a nativity scene in the altar area during Advent & Christmas. I often take the little Jesus from it and observe to the people how cute he looks. Not only cute, but perfectly harmless. And as a statue, he just lies there, not even crying for food or a new diaper. Hard to imagine why anyone would see him as a threat. I think we're so sensitive to "attacks" on Christmas because when Christmas is the center of our Christianity (rather than, say, Good Friday and Easter), we have a nice, comfortable, domesticated Jesus, practically a toy in our hands. We are nicely in control.

Chuck Tackett said...

I like the post Allan and Richard's comments. Dot lent me a book by Walter Brueggemann called The Prophetic Imagination that proffers a similar theme about Moses and the counter-culture he defined that was subsequently reversed by the very people it was meant for.

I just wonder what a subversive Christmas would look like. What would we do? Where would we go? Who would we serve? What is a really good message to show the reality of the event?

the fact that ideas don't readily come to mind may same something unpleasant about me, but...

thanks for the provocative thoughts.

Clay Knick said...

Very good, as usual.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Richard, what a great way to make the point. I had not considered this issue in light of our attempt to control things. More pondering is necessary on my part.

Chuck, I think it is less how we celebrate Christmas (though that is not unimportant) and more how we live the Christian life. I fear that the lordship of Jesus Christ is treated as one commitment among many instead of that which re-orders all of our other commitments.

Clay, Thanks!

Tony Hawkins said...

Christmas Greetings!
Thanks for confirming my suspicion that the quiet stable scene was
not innocent....but invasive as
God visited planet earth with
'earth shaking' news! Good News
at that!
Matthew & Luke both contrast
the baby Jesus with the political
powers of the day, and all 4 good
news reporters demonstrate the threat Jesus posed to political
AND religious leaders...enough
to get him killed.

However, the good news isn't about
facing off against the political
powers...but rather introducing
God's power of salvation into our
lives that we might 'season' relationships and culture with a
different allegiance and life style.

How does the Christmas story address the issues of how a society
values marginal people? Children?
Unborn? Aging? Homeless...etc.?

In our proabortion culture, how
would Mother Mary fare today?
What do she & Joseph teach us on how
to relate to those who have
'unexpected' and/or 'unwanted'

Consider me foolish or faithful
as I address the abortion dilemma's
on Christmas Sunday using the
texts of Matthew 2 (Rachel weeps);
and Luke 1:26-45.

HOw subversive is the Christmas story in a culture in which
'choice' seems more sacred than

In addition, how faithful is the
Church in supporting those women and children who have chosen life
in very difficult, stressful

Sometimes it is too true that the
prolife movement limits its view
of 'sanctity' from conception to

Troublesome issues....Troublesome
questions...troublesome Jesus!

Tony Hawkins

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good thoughts, Allan. This is part of the gospel that seems mostly lost to us evangelicals. I mean that Jesus is Lord. And God's kingdom has come in him. I think as a result we seem to all too easily be coopted into the ways of this world.