Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I do not sense as much the feeling of holy obligation. In fact, even "religious" folks are more likely than not to describe Christmas in terms of family celebration, general love and good will, and the particular traditions of their own manner of observing the day. In fact, attendance by those not so regular on Christmas has, indeed, fallen off. It is no longer part of the culture of Christmas to gather in Church.
It strikes me odd because even though no one in my family was or is a church worker, Church was always the most central part and deepest of my childhood memories of Christmas. We would gather for the children's Christmas program on Christmas Eve and then the Divine Service to follow. On our way out the usher would hand us a brown paper bag in which was the shiniest red apple known to man, some chocolates, some hard candy, and a few peanuts in the shell. It was a great treat to which we looked forward for the entire year.
Dad was inevitably the last one to leave. We would sit in the cold car waiting for him to come, shivering in the icy blast of winter, our breath seen even inside the vehicle. Finally he would come and we would get home late. No respite there. About 4 am, my mother would get us up and we would make our way to Grandma & Grandpa's in order to go with them to Julotta -- the Swedish Christmas service that begins at dawn. Only after a night and day full of Christmas services, would Christmas finally be here.
For most folks in America, Christmas begins and ends without a trip to Church -- much less an evening and day spent in God's House. My children have learned that Christmas is about Church -- maybe they resent it but it would not matter, it is what goes with my job. Christmas Eve is spent at Church from 5 pm until nearly midnight. Then we are back on Christmas Day. I do not think they resent it anymore than I did of old -- they simply accept it. This is a holy day, a day of holy obligation. We come for the manger that was where Christ was first come, for the Christ who is here in Word and Sacrament, and to prepare for the Christ who is coming again.
Christmas has become more and more about things other than Christ and less and less the holy obligation of the faithful to remember His coming, receive from His presence, and prepare for what is to come. In the end I find this terribly sad. If I could go back in time, those Christmas Eve late nights and early Christmas morning would be high on my list of moments to repeat again and share with my wife and my children. So in the end we offer to our children less and less to remember, less and less to receive, and less and less to expect. It becomes more about us than about Him. It becomes a Christmas every Jew or Muslim can celebrate right along with us and get out of it about the same as most folks who might identify as Christian. And that is a particularly sad thought to have so close to Christmas....