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« Read the latest ’BreakPoint WorldView’ | Main | Not just another week at the beach »

December 18, 2007

Feeling guilty this Christmas

Christmas_story In Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, Liza Mundy provides a rundown of all the classic (and not-so-classic) Christmas specials on television, from Rudolph and Charlie Brown to South Park. Really, it's an act of selfless compassion -- now, we can all save ourselves the agony of watching Ralph get scolded for coveting a BB gun ("you'll shoot your eye out") or listening to the bells in Bedford Falls as an angel gets his wings. Mundy has taken one for the team, watching them all, so we don't have to.

Many of the shows, she notes, revolve around a theme of guilt. They make "you reflect on your own moral shortcomings, and 'no sooner is that problem of guilt created in your head -- and Christmas specials are nothing if not generators of guilt -- than there's a commercial saying, 'Buy this Hallmark card if you care enough to send the very best' . . ."

Guilt doesn't exactly sound like the Christmas spirit.  But, the more I thought about it, the more guilt seemed to be exactly the spirit that Christmas is all about. Sure, we think about family, togetherness, love, joy, giving to others. But the whole thing kicked off because of guilt...our guilt.

The Christmas story is inexorably tied to the Easter story, to the bloody cross and the sins of the world. The babe who was born in a manger, the one whom holiday pins proclaim to be "the reason for the season," came for one purpose: to die on behalf of the guilty. He came to assume the guilt that kept us from God, to trade His righteousness for our sinfulness. Because of this ultimate gift exchange, we can lay aside our guilt once and for all -- not just the petty guilt over the cookies that didn't get baked or the card we forgot to send, but the real, penetrating guilt, the stain of sin that made it necessary for a Christmas baby to become the crucified Savior.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we all spend Christmas looking glum and serious, feeling the full pious weight of our guilt. The angels who heralded the Savior's birth called it "good news." The coming of Christ, the incarnation of God to take on Himself the guilt of mankind, is what gives us the opportunity to become part of God's family, to know joy and love and peace and all the other warm, fuzzy feelings we normally associate with Christmas. The real meaning of Christmas is that we can finally get rid of the guilt. Glory to God in the highest!

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Comments

CLH

I liked Robin Givhan's take on holiday movies:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2007/12/08/ST2007120801756.html
"But television and movie traditions offer a kind of continuity and reassurance that other traditions can't. The cookies burn. The lights break. The pine needles start falling off the tree too soon. But the Grinch and his little dog remain the same. ...
"The story lines that made viewers turn teary-eyed the first 10 times they saw these Christmas classics will most likely continue to do so. They strum a chord that is ignored or denied all year long. We are not as detached and cynical as we would like to think. We are not as angry. ...
"At Christmas time, people ... go back to their past, which in hindsight always seems less complicated."
Almost touches on that childlike faith we need to have after acknowledging the guilt.

jason taylor

Actually The Christmas Story is a good one. It reminds us that real families and not just idealized ones can have a Merry Christmas. Even if the neighbor's dogs get the turkey and they have to go out for Chinese.

LeeQuod

Born to die.

In contrast to the (often secular) movies and TV specials, church programs typically make Christmas into a time of nothing but joy - for an unknown reason. Many of the familiar carols point to it ("Hark The Herald Angels Sing" says "God and sinners reconciled"), but there's essentially no drama to the story as it's portrayed (unless they make a deal of the Roman occupation and Herod's perfidy).

You don't get the sense of "If this baby isn't born, we might as well jump off the bridge with George Bailey."

But then, like Michael Card ( http://www.mp3lyrics.org/m/michael-card/known-by-the-scars/ ), I like to put the Xtreme in X-mas. If I come away from the season feeling nothing but a warm, fuzzy glow, then I feel it's been wasted.

The highlight of my Christmas season so far was seeing an interview with an Iraqi who escaped from being drafted into Saddam's army and became homeless in Turkey. (Didn't speak the language.) There he met a Christian who fed him and helped him come to America, where he is now a Christian himself. He wept as he told the story, and so did we.

So when I weep at the end of "It's A Wonderful Life", it's not only for me and my guilt, but for others who no longer have guilt but are gloriously saved, and also for those who still stagger under its weight.

Thank you, Kristine.

Steve (SBK)

I agree with you LeeQuod.

The best films (er, the best of anything) revolve around the theme of redemption.

Susannah

Love Michael Card's Christmas music!

"Living proof that Yahweh saves, for the name of the Promise was Jesus."

I just rented The Bells of St. Mary's. I love the children's nativity play scene. :)

Gina Dalfonzo

It's funny, Lee, I was just reading at Cinematical the other day a post from someone who said the Nativity doesn't make a good movie because there's not enough of a story there.

http://www.cinematical.com/2007/12/16/cinematical-seven-how-to-spot-a-christmas-movie-that-wont-work/

Maybe, as you seem to be saying, it's all in how it's told. Dorothy Sayers (and Dalfonzo's Rule kicks into action!) wrote a Nativity play, "He That Should Come," and it was pretty darn good -- reflecting, maybe, her firm belief that the entire story of Christ was the greatest drama ever staged.

LeeQuod

Gina wrote: "It's funny, Lee,"

You and I are in complete agreement, Gina, except that I don't think this is coincidental. Along the lines of The Screwtape Letters, as a demon if I couldn't eliminate Christmas I'd want to instead make it as shallow and treacly and artificially joyful and devoid of deep meaning as possible. Then (as Zoe pointed out) any tragedy in someone's life at this time of year could make the holiday a sham, or worse.

And Diane has the thread that completes this thought; I believe the entire Bible should be read (and especially read aloud in churches) as if it was the most dramatic saga ever told. And not just the story of Christ, if by that phrase Sayers meant the New Testament, but rather the whole Bible from Generations to Revolutions.

If you don't read the Nativity story as Satan pulling out all the stops to keep this Child from becoming who He'll become, then I think you read it wrong. Let's make the husband doubt to the point of considering divorce, which would have made Mary a single mother in a land with no entitlements. Throw in an arduous journey. Try to induce premature labor whenever the donkey stumbles. Make water scarce. Have the inn be full. Force Joseph to spend his last denarius. Make the birthing room relatively septic. Get the midwives to be scarce and/or reluctant. This story should have you on the edge of your seat throughout, every time it's told - not drifting off thinking of gifts not yet purchased or decorations not yet hung.

And when we sing the carols, we should be celebrating as if a choir of angels and the Shekinah itself were present once again. I harken back to Frank Peretti's "This Present Darkness" angel characters when I think of who greeted the startled shepherds. I think of them not as pasty-faced, Mormon-style wimpy angels, but muscular he-man angels who would impress even Allen, singing from a clear falsetto high tenor to a ribcage-rattling bass, as if they'd been waiting to sing this particular song for over 4,000 years. And out in the field you can sing really loud.

I think Christmas should be a mind-bending experience, every year. Personally, I'm always able to find something new in the story.

And riffing on the "feeling guilty at Christmastime" theme, you, Ms. Dalfonzo, should feel quite guilty for reminding me every year (and only indirectly *this* year) of DLS's "The Man Born To Be King" **after** it's been checked out of the local library. A little more advance notice next time, please! :-)

LeeQuod

Some imbecile named LeeQuod wrote: "And Diane has the thread that completes this thought"

It's actually Kristine.

Gina Dalfonzo

Lee -- oops. :-) Well, there's always Easter.

To make up for my lapse, links to the Nativity play (even if it arrives a bit late for Christmas reading!):

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0939218194?ie=UTF8&tag=breakpoint-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=0939218194

http://www.booksamillion.com/ncom/books?id=3945560659079&rare_search=1&qtit=Two+Plays+about+God+and+Man&qauth=Sayers,+Dorothy+L.

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