Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas: A Time to Give (In)

Sunday’s New York Times contained four engaging essays grouped under the title How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Holidays. Each fell back to the same basic theme: Christmas is a time to indulge in consumerism and, for a time, set aside our self-imposed standards. (Currently you can find the essays here.)

As a Jewish woman celebrating Christmas for the first time, Cindy Chupack threw herself into consumerism full force, as one making up for years of lost time. Observing her newly ornamented home, she writes, “I sit back and enjoy my first Christmas, in all its kitschy splendor. I feel a little guilty when I look at our lone menorah on the mantel (the only evidence of my faith other than my guilt), but I ask you: how can this much pleasure be wrong?”

In another essay, Mike Albo describes his yearly holiday retreat from the Big City to his home town in Virginia. He writes, “For a brief week, I get to be as ugly and out of it as Americans are always accused of being, and no one has to see it.”

And he adds: “I lose touch, for once, with my online pals, bloggy buddies, Netflix friends and MySpace chums. Finally I am logged off from the incessant broad-band stream of information of my daily life. I don’t have to eat properly, act locally, think globally, sync up, detoxify or Move On.”

And: “For once, I have zero concern for the homeless, global warming, my future and Darfur.”

What strikes me most in these Christmastime reflections is how they reveal the pressure with which these city dwellers live. It’s a weight that’s only acknowledged once a year, when it comes time to release the pressure – to give in, if not give up. It’s a pressure to conform to a prescribed righteousness, a kind of anti-consumerism, even while swimming in a city full of it. And since the pressure is admittedly too much to bear, caving to consumer comforts becomes a saving grace… at least once a year.

Jesus came to set us free. He has been often quoted as saying, “He whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” Since today’s post is long enough, I would like to comment on this freedom in a future post. For now, perhaps it is enough to admit that we need to be set free. Whether religious or not, every person seeks to be righteous – in their own eyes, in the eyes of others, ultimately in God’s eyes. But we can’t live up to even our own standards. We need a Savior.

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