In this Christmas season, the blogosphere is once again posting thoughts back and forth on the so-called "war on Christmas," in an attempt to see who can be most offended. 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 election 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.
Again, an excellent post. These are the questions of the day. I think we can be subversive in choosing a relaxed holy day that includes limited gift receiving and some kind of service for the weeks of Christmas. Wesley was into prision ministry. These are subversive activities of the Kingdom of God.
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