Blog Template Theology of the Body: "Merry Christmas" as I Know that My Redeemer Lives

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Merry Christmas" as I Know that My Redeemer Lives

We celebrated the Feast of jolly St. Nicholas this past week. As the patron saint of children, he is also one of the fathers of the 4th century Council of Nicaea- we believe... in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

Have you noticed that Christmas is all about children? It seems to be a foregone conclusion in our culture that they are the ones who know and can most fully enter the spirit of the season, such that adults are beckoned by every storefront and candy cane and bit of tinsel to participate annually in their glee (rather than the other way around, for once); and if for some reason we cannot enter easily into the life of a child, we sigh and hope that we might dutifully catch some of that properly childlike Christmas abandon sometime soon.

Think about the Christmas cinema: it’s Tiny Tim, and Natalie of 44th Street, and that little girl on It’s a Wonderful Life who can really comprehend The Mystery while everyone else frets at Christmas. And, I believe, we all sort of envy the Griswold family for their childish Christmas antics. Who really wants to be a deliberating and reserved grown-up on Christmas morning?

There’s something very true about the whole impulse; this is the time when we celebrate the fact that our Creator entered into the life of a little child. And if we sometimes feel irked with ourselves at this time of year because we are too old and grumpy and stingy to experience Christmas time with childlike longing and heart skipping, we might recall that we are indeed supposed to enter into the life of the child, in the real way in which we are called to be like little children by Christ Himself.

(In each Gospel, Jesus’ endorsement of the little child is immediately juxtaposed against the sad tale of the rich young ruler who has everything, but who walks away from the child-embraced Christ. The stark social-economic reality is that children get to Jesus because they’ve got nothing to lose, and we remember- with a very adult sobriety, perhaps- that for us the true life of a child is one of renunciation, of the positioning of one’s self to be, like children, without property, without political status, and without legal rights with which to enforce our will against another. The idealized life of the little child is thus potentially rather terrifying. Hello, Kierkegaard.)

Of course, children are not so easily terrified; as is most pronounced in the midst of our adult Christmases, they believe.

G.K. Chesterton does not talk so much about the absence of atheists in foxholes in his work On Conversion; rather, he notes the total absence of atheists in the nursery. Have you ever met an agnostic child? I haven’t. Children love, and rejoice, and decorate, not because the world is rosy or because they have found adequate justification for their beliefs. They know and they love. It’s simple.

The whole world wants to be pretty simple at Christmas too. I drive down the highway and I see billboards plastered with single-word sentiments at this time of year: “Peace!”… “Joy!”…About what? Downtown, there are little trees covered with lights. Why? People scramble to spend money creatively and congregate in ways that would otherwise appear idiotic. What are they playing at? You see how incongruous these nasty questions seem in context. “It’s Christmas” (the world replies)- “that’s why!”

It may be that Christmas is when the whole weary world, from east to west, bares its most childlike, latent intuitions and its most simple, heartfelt impulses. This is the time when it makes no sense to ask qualifying questions; this is the time that we all simply know, and that we all love, just because. This is the time when the most secular of cultures reminds us that there is something to the fact that we all just simply know Christmas, and we all simply want Christmas in our hearts, on some level at least; and if we do not know and love Christmas when we see it, then there must be something- unchildlike - about our hearts.

(Keep the spirit of Christmas!… and you know what that means. -What, you don’t? Well then, you’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch…).

Richard Swinburne, one of the world’s best philosophers of religion, holds that glimmers of religious experience, sometimes encountered, constitute sufficient evidence- when combined with other cumulative clues to the existence of God- that is adequate to defeat even the verifiable detractor of the monumental problem of evil. I asked him about the content of this religious experience, which so many people anticipate with longing, like children waiting for Christmas. I have heard so many non Christian friends confide that they would gladly believe if God would just give them a sign, or if He would just make Himself clear enough for real rational assent. They want proof; they want something to justify that God-sense in their gut. Don’t we all? …And is this elusive “religious experience” best defined as consolation? Or the presence of hope? Or is it mere perseverence? How will we rationally evaluate it when it comes? My philosopher of religion pointed out how incongruous these questions seem in context. When you've met God, you just know.

Look around you: it’s Christmas time. Why all the fuss? Why this longing in our hearts to rejoice and have peace, and to have it now? -Well, it’s Christmas, that’s why.

Self evidence: We just know what we seek, and we just know when we are met by the God who made us. We know and we love. It’s simple. And every year at Christmas, the rest of the world endorses the Christian intuition as it joins us in this very simple experience of childlike knowing and celebrating, impulsively turning out Christmas because of the quiet mystery of the Incarnation of God. The world is full of childlike little people who simply know and love at Christmas time, and who wait breathlessly.

Argue with that one, Mr. Grinch.