Thursday, December 25, 2008

The What and Why of Christmas

Re-posted from 2007...

Last week we had a couple of Jehovah Witnesses knock on our door. Personally knowing the emotions and labor that accompanies door-knocking to spread the gospel news, I invited them in and offered a drink. The discussion went as you might think between a Mormon family and two Jehovah Witnesses. We agreed to disagree on many points of Biblical interpretation. Being December, we began to discuss their religion's teaching to not celebrate holidays and, in particular, the neglect of Christmas. Being fair-minded, I will tell you that they choose not to celebrate due to their interpretation of various Biblical verses and add the comment that they simply choose to give gifts and presents throughout the year and not let the traditions of man dictate when and what they will celebrate. I applaud their thoughtful analytical process in choosing not to celebrate. However, over the following days it caused me to reconsider why I was celebrating Christmas and what Christmas means to me.

I understand that evolution of Pagan celebrations and rituals have brought us to our current tradition of Christmas. I'm actually okay with that. So the Romans celebrated Saturnalia in a fashion more closely related to a week of Mardi Gras type partying. That's cool. The Christians then wanted to bring in some Roman converts and incorporated the week long festival into celebrating the birthday of Christ. They worshipped the trees, so let's bring in a tree and decorate it. I understand that. Nicolas born in Turkey, becomes Bishop of Myra, honored position on the council of Nicaea (that was the council that decided what letters and scripts to put into a compilation that would come to be known as the Holy Bible), he dies, and gains a following that over the next 700 to 800 years combines a few different histories contributing to the characteristics of Saint Nicholas, who received Saintdom in early 19th century. In 1809 Washington Irving writes "Knickerbocker History" which refers several times to the white bearded, flying-horse riding Saint Nicholas using his Dutch name, Santa Claus. Having read this, Dr. Clement Moore in 1822, writes the epic poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas," or as it is most commonly referred today, "Twas The Night Before Christmas." Add some more about Coca Cola's involvement with the marketing of Santa's image, the advent of Rudolph and Frosty, the numerous classic Christmas movies, a couple of NFL football games and you have a Christian American Christmas tradition.

Just because it came from Paganism and is now being exploited by Capitalists should we now shun the celebration? Are our Jehovah Witness friends right in their refusal to celebrate? Heck, my own ward here in Oceanside banned Santa Claus from our church Christmas party. What is this world coming to? I propose that Christmas is not in need of a restoration as there was no true definitive Christmas established to return to. Therefore, reforming Christmas, as the Christian world has been doing and will continue to do is what is required to instill the purity of Christ-worship during the Christmas season. Will there be those who miss the mark? Of course, just as there are differing levels of commitment in varying Christian congregations. Will there be those who overdue it in their zeal and seek to isolate Christ as the only acceptable figure of celebration during Christmas? Of course! How do you ban Santa from a Christmas party? What's next...ban Harry Potter? Alright, I'll save that debate for a different blog.

Christmas is the time of year when we can realign our focus to be more in line with our beliefs. As one Mormon authority, Hugh B. Brown once said, "For one day, at least, Christendom practices Christianity." How many non-believers are reminded once a year that a Savior was born as a babe in Bethlehem? How many contributions and various charitable work is contributed in the month of December every year? I suppose once Christ comes again it won't be necessary for Christians to celebrate Christmas but until then, what is the harm?

Do we worship Santa? Of course not. John A. Widtsoe, a mormon apostle and respected scientist, once said, "We live in a world of symbols. We know nothing, except by symbols. No one finds fault with the symbols on the pages of a book because they are not as mighty in their own beauty as the things the represent...There are some men who object to Santa Claus, because he does not exist! Such men need spectacles to see that Santa Claus is a symbol; a symbol of the love and joy of Christmas and the Christmas spirit."

I love the stories of Santa Claus. A jolly old man who brings joy and cheer throughout the world by giving gifts to good little boys and girls. Newer interpretations are even incorporating Santa's help in the spread of Christianity (see C.S. Lewis's tale of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe). I love that during this season mankind thinks more about giving than receiving. I love the spirit of Dickens "A Christmas Carol." I love watching movies that spread happiness and delight. I wish that the spirit would permeate throughout the year. Unfortunately, the words spoke many, many years ago… "There is no room at the inn" are still being spoke today by far too many people. There is no room for Christ in the commercialistic Christmas season, there is no room for Him in the selfish heart, there is no room for Him but during Sunday worship, and there is no room for Him in schools and government. Christmas helps remind me that I need to find room in my faith and actions for Christ lest I hear the words of James echo in my ears, "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"

Boyd K. Packer, a current Mormon apostle, has said, "The whole account - from Bethlehem to Calvary - is the Christmas story, and it takes simple, childlike, almost na├»ve faith to know it…" Christmas is more than celebrating the birth of the Savior for without His death and resurrection, the story remains untold. I choose to celebrate His life and what He taught. I celebrate that through Him we, as mortals, can overcome the two things we cannot for ourselves - sin and death. Jesus Christ has opened the gates of heaven and made possible the way to return. I do know that Christ is our Savior and Redeemer and I know that He lives. May we praise Him and I invite you all to define the what and why of your own Christmas story. In the words of Tiny Tim, "God bless us, everyone!"

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