Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Christmas: April 8

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the December 18, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky How often this time of year we hear the mournful complaint that commercialization and even completing religious celebrations have taken over the Christmas season? The attentive ear heard the rumblings way back in July. Now, with only a few shopping days left, the background echo has reached a crescendo. Often during this pre-Christmas season those who want to keep Christ in the season feel the grate of commercialism’s fingers sliding across the blackboard of our lives. The more one tries to focus on quiet, reflection and prayer during the Advent season, the more sensitive the ear seems to become to the clash that exists between contemporary society and frenzied appeals to feed the nation’s economy.

Recently a televised non-profit fund-raising event caught my attention. The announcer was pleading for donations – admittedly, to a broad, general audience. Said he: “Whatever your ‘thing’ is this time of year, be it Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas, you know that this is the season for giving.”

“Whatever your thing is this time of year!?” I found myself shouting at the television screen: “How dare you reduce Christmas to just ‘our thing!’ And it’s not our ‘thing’ either; it’s – well, it’s…..!”

My own remarks forced me to stop and think. Even to question. How do we Christians appear to others, especially at this time of year? Is Christmas just a “thing” we do year after year – a thing which to the secular eye appears to be just one more happening alongside many others which are gaining prominence in our society? The announcer’s use of the word “thing” wasn’t a direct reference to what the dictionary may define as a reality which exists objectively, as, for example, a chair. In this circumstance, “thing” is a condensed rendition of “thingamajig,” which the dictionary defines as “an unnamed item difficult to classify.”

To the secular eye – and perhaps because of our own behavior – Christmas can be perceived as a “thingamajig” that engages us Christians on an annual basis. Christmas has become an anchor point not only in the economic world but also in our own personal lives as well. We plan family gatherings, school schedules, business activities, trips, etc. around the hinge of Christmas time – or what the secularized element of society calls the “Winter Break.”

I wonder how many of us Christians would celebrate Christmas if the Christian churches united to change the date for the celebration to April 8? After all, there is nothing sacrosanct about December 25. That date, as we know, is more related to the Christian world’s response to pagan sun worshippers than it is related to an actual date of birth for Jesus of Nazareth. Changing the date for Christmas would certainly force us to re-evaluate our focus. Perhaps it would help simplify and clarify just what it is that we celebrate at Christmas time.

Every world religion has its peculiar set of rites and rituals. And a great deal of liturgical and devotional celebration has developed over the centuries related to the Feast of the Word Incarnate: nativity scenes, trees, wreathes, parties, shopping, music and fat guys in bulges of red. It is easy to see why such realities appear to the world as our “thingamajig” – an unnamed item difficult to identify.

Christmas is not “our thing.” Regardless of how much decoration has been heaped on this feast over the centuries, at its heart and soul, Christmas does not celebrate what we have done, but what God has done for us. The feast is the celebration of the awesome fact that the eternal and inscrutable God could so love us that flesh and human nature become the very medium of God’s gift of self to us. Love becomes an incarnate Word in the little One born of Mary in Bethlehem. God chose not just to be among us, but to be with us, one of us – so much one with us that this Word lived, ministered, served, spoke, died and rose that we, in turn, might find our true identity as sons and daughters of God. Such a stunning act of unconditional and unmerited love is impossible for our limited minds and hearts to grasp. But try we must. The Good News of this reality is so life-changing that it does indeed evoke song, dance, decoration, festivity and celebration. We Christians have been carrying on in such fashion with increasing frenzy since the beginning.

Of course, the chances of the Christian churches agreeing to change the date of Christmas are astronomically slight. The thought of doing so, however, just might help us to focus on the core of our present celebration on Dec. 25. Christmas is not just our thing this time of year. Hardly is it an event which needs to compete in a world of other seasonal celebrations which vie for people’s attention and their pocket books. Christmas must be reverenced as God’s thing. It is God’s “thingamajig” – God’s item, difficult to identify – because the heart of the feast remains mystery. The love relationship between God and the world manifest with such blazing clarity in Jesus, born of Mary, did not end with the Death and Resurrection of her Son. God continues to love and to save us in Christ. When we realize that this relationship is a personal gift for each and every one of us, then indeed we have something to celebrate. But without this realization, we prove the announcer correct and run the risk of just continuing to do our “thing” this time of year.

April 8 falls on a Wednesday in 2015.

(Father Savelesky serves as Diocesan Administrator.)

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