Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Danger of Sentiment

Before you go off on those unemotional Lutheran types, I am not suggesting that emotions be absent from our worship or that emotions are automatically at odds with our faith (though they certainly can be).  But emotion and sentiment are not the same thing.  I get emotional.  My eyes filled up with tears at the end of the The Dawn Treader (CS Lewis; the third Narnia movie, for those who have no life).  I am not necessarily anti-emotion but I am solidly against sentimentality.

The "aw... how cute" kind of sentimentality has taken over Christmas and stolen its message from us.  We have turned the stable into the cutest and most comfy little place -- why, women everywhere ought to give up hospitals and birthing rooms to head outside and give birth in one for a Hallmark moment you will never forget.  We have made the straw and the manger into the best little bed any child might want and we have lined up the animals to warm the Christ child with their breath as if this image were a combo of America's funniest and Animal Planet.  Look at the Mary and Joseph on those cards and it makes you wonder why we don't have Mary and Joseph dolls to go along with Barbie and Ken since they are just so beautiful and so handsome.

We have forgotten that there was nothing cute about that first Christmas.  It was a story of conflict, rejection, make shift, make do, rude and bare circumstances.  Jesus came into the flesh in the midst of life's worst and His birth is the result of the God who is determined to embrace us in all our weakness, fallenness, and mortality.  By allowing sentiment to steal the day, we forget the very meaning of why He was born and what He came to accomplish for us and for our salvation.

I vote "no" on the Hallmark moment Christmas and "no" on the vain attempts to justify ourselves by saying "it really wasn't so bad" how Jesus was born and where He spent His first days.  I vote "no" on carols that sing of sweetness and refuse to sing of the death that He was born for, the suffering that was His purpose, and the mountain of sin that compelled Him to come in love to the rescue of us (His fallen and condemned creation).  I vote "no" on all our foolish attempts to turn His story into a fairy tale with a happy ending and a moral to the story that we can all apply and get something good out of it (Buddhist, Muslim, or athiest).

I am not saying we must be devoid of emotion but we must not let Christmas be stolen right from our hands by the every attempt to cutsie up the stench of the world that Jesus was born into -- and literally, in the stable.  I think this is one of the reasons why Christmas is losing hold of us and our culture.  It has become a cute and sweet story that is so sugary it should be labeled a hazard by the American Dental Association.  We don't need to sweetness but the strong an sturdy love that is capable of bearing the full burden of our sin, the full weight of our fallen life, the full impact of our death, AND answer it all with grace great enough to repair, redeem, restore, and renew us from our lost condition.

So enjoy the emotion but don't give into the dark side and turn Christmas into a sentimental moment.  God was not coming to the Island of Misfit Toys to do His bidding but into our world with all that is real about our pain, sin, fear, sorrow, and death.  He comes not to band-aid us through nor to pat us on the back and tell us we are not so misfit as we thought.  He comes with the grace that confronts sin and all its consequences and overcomes its deathly grip upon us as only the Son of God in human flesh can do.

A little thought about sentiment... if you cannot see the wood of the cross in the wood of the manger, you have not yet learned what Christmas is about.


Janis Williams said...


And woe to the creator of Precious Moments" figures! Those things scare me!

tubbs said...

wood of the manger/wood of the cross - sounds like Dag Hamershkold's (sp?) first trumpet of Calvary quip. So rattling yet so true.
BUT...we still have the whole story to rejoice over!

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Matthew 2:16-18 is the antidote to Christmas sentimentality and cuteness. It should be an integral part of the Nativity. Unfortunately its rather rare to hear it preached during the season of Christmas. The tension between the title "Prince of Peace" and "I did not come to bring peace but a sword" is an important one that we should not miss.