Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, January 03, 2009

It's Still Christmas

It is now January 3, and most people are glad to be able to forget the busyness of Christmas, and to get on with life, whatever "getting on with life" may mean. But contrary to popular conception, we're still in the Christmas season. According to the traditional Western Church calendar, this is the Tenth Day of Christmas (you know, with those Lords a-Leaping). Christmas officially ends with January 6th, which is Epiphany, the celebration of the visitation of the Wise Men to Jesus.

There are, in our time and place, two ways of ordering time. One is the secular calendar. It begins its calendar year on January 1st, and is a blending of sacred and secular holidays, all of which exist to serve the interests of the State. Then there is the traditional Church calendar. It begins with Advent, the season preceding Christmas.

It is commonly thought that Christmas season is the time after Thanksgiving, leading up to Christmas Day, and ending with December 25. Accordingly, it is common for radio and TV stations broadcasting special Christmas programming to cease doing so the day after Christmas. But this approach to the season has been dictated by the marketing gurus of our society. Their interests intersect our own only insofar as they can benefit monetarily off of us.

Sadly, the church calendar has at times been used in a similar way. Rather than educating the laity in Scripture's teaching on Christian devotion, sub-Biblical devotional practices often arose, sometimes merely as a way to keep the people in line. It's much easier to control people when they are ignorant, after all. Some teachings contrary to Scripture, such as the notion of the canonization of certain individuals as saints, supererogatory works and the treasury of merits, linked closely with a faulty notion of salvation, were tied in to the idea of days devoted to certain saints. Observance of certain days were required for salvation, and observance of other days served as an aid for a quicker escape from Purgatory.

Let me state clearly that I oppose all such notions. As a son of the Reformation, the observance of the church calendar is something I consider to be optional. But I also believe throwing the baby out with the bath water is out of order here, too. There are certain benefits to observing a church calendar that I think should be preserved. And it is perfectly possible to observe the calendar on some level without resulting in the false teachings of the medieval church. It is even possible to observe days dedicated to certain godly men and women of church history without holding to the false notions of salvation linked to them. We celebrate birthdays, not only of those who are living, but also of those who are dead (such as Presidents' Day). Why is it not even more appropriate to celebrate the history of those saints who have died before us?

One of the key questions in my mind has to do with what defines us as individuals. Am I, first and foremost, a servant of the State? Or am I, above all else, a child of God, and therefore united to all saints, in both heaven and earth? To the Christian, this should be an easy question. Why, then, do we allow the Civil calendar to be the primary way our consciousness is shaped regarding time? Nations rise and fall, but the kingdom of our God and of his Christ will last forever. And our enjoyment of this kingdom begins now, for realm over which Jesus reigns includes both heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).

Another key question is this: why do we let those who market their wares to us dictate our lives? Now, it's true that we need things to survive. And there's nothing wrong with desiring something we don't have, so long as it doesn't become an idol and so lead to covetousness. But our approach to the Christmas season has come to be largely determined by material possessions, such that Christ birth becomes an appendage to the season. Buying gifts for others is a good Christmas practice, and a demonstration of Christ's love. But we have become enslaved by greedy corporations, and this is something I think we need to examine more carefully.

And both these masters - the State and Corporate America - cooperate with one another in order to benefit off of us. As sales increase, so do the tax revenues that pour into the pockets of the State. And as the Government is benefited, so it makes decisions that benefit the executives of Corporate America. If recent events in our economic crisis hasn't made that obvious, then we haven't been paying attention.

So one of the best ways we can counter those that would seek to enslave us, I would suggest, is to observe the Church calendar. In so doing, we proclaim that Christ has authority over all things. He owns me, both body and soul, and that includes my time.

Lastly, one other practical outworking of observing the Church calendar, it would seem to me, would be as a means of creating, for lack of a better term, "psychological well-being". I think of this particularly with regard to the sort of "post-Christmas depression" that many struggle with. We are creatures bound by time, and as such are defined in our identity in part by the succession of time and the meaning of those days which we inhabit. When one observes a truncated calendar, such as is done in secular America, it isn't surprising when a person finds himself looking for purpose after investing so much time and emotion in a holiday. But if all of time is sacred, and this fact is manifested in regular church calendar, then one may find comfort in the practical celebration of this reality. And one may practically celebrate this reality, I would suggest, in the observance of the Church calendar.


Blogger James said...

Interesting post. Don't forget that in some traditions, the "Christmas Season" doesn't officially end until Candlemas, 40 days after the nativity, February 2nd in the Western Calendar. I guess a practicing Anglican knows that though:)

1:31 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Yeah, I was trying to stick with the broader tradition of the Twelve Days. For those not familiar with the Church calendar, I didn't want to throw too much at them at one time. So far as my being a practicing Anglican goes, I'm more of an Angliterian anyway. A more consistent Anglican would be seeking to bind men's consciences to all of canon law, and that's where my Presbyterianism, in that I argue for the liberty of conscience, kicks in. I see the church calendar as a matter of wisdom, not of absolute necessity.

8:00 PM  

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