Sunday, December 25, 2011

"...A Savior has been Born for You Who is Messiah and Lord..."

Before anything else:
"4 Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.

"The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

"The angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

"5 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.

"And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.'

"And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

"6 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'

"When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.' "
(Luke 2:8-15)
That is what Christmas is all about.
Quite a few years back C. S. Lewis wrote that three things go by the name of "Christmas," a:
  • Religious festival
  • Popular holiday
  • Commercial racket
If that sounds familiar, you might have read a post I did in 2009: or, more likely, read C. S. Lewis' "God in the Dock."

I think Lewis is right.

Christmas: a Religious Festival

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website:

"The season to celebrate the Lord's birth, his manifestation to the world, and His baptism. The season begins Christmas eve and ends on the Baptism of the Lord, including the Epiphany of the Lord as well."
("Advent and Christmas Seasons" USCCB)
Quite a few folks have written quite a lot about Christmas, and Advent. I finally found a copy of an online Advent and Christmas booklet document that popped up last year, only to disappear in a website's reorganization. I'm glad it surfaced again, since I think it's a rather good example of 'thoughts from the Pope:'
The first link takes you to a copy I've archived - copied from the USCCB website a few days ago. Today's page lists the Vigil, Dawn, and Day Bible readings, and part of a verse from John:
"And the Word became flesh 9 and made his dwelling among us...."
(John 1:14)
Then there's this excerpt from something Pope Benedict XVI said in 2006:
"In being born among us, may the Child Jesus not find us distracted or merely busy, beautifying our houses with decorative lights. Rather, let us deck our soul and make our families a worthy dwelling place where he feels welcomed with faith and love."
General Audience
December 20, 2006
The full text (English) of that Wednesday audience is on the Vatican's website:
I'm a Christian, a practicing Catholic, so for me Christmas is mostly a "religious festival:" the day we celebrate the birth of my Lord. That doesn't mean that I think everybody should sit around today, looking grim. I've harangued about 'being spiritual' before.

Do I think everybody should be forced to see Christmas the way I do? No: that's not allowed. Religious freedom is 'in the rules' for Catholics. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109)

Religious freedom for everybody (Catechism, 2106)

Do I mind seeing folks celebrating a mere 'popular holiday,' or getting involved with a commercial racket? A bit, sometimes. But not as much as I might.

Christmas: a Popular Holiday

Once in a while, I see or remember one too many of those cheerfully bland holiday specials. The sort that end with a nice, sweet 'the true meaning of Christmas is:'
  • Friendship
  • It's better to give than to receive
  • Being nice
  • Happy memories
Nothing wrong with any of the above sentiments: but there's a tad more about this winter solstice observance than greeting-card slogans.

I went slightly ballistic about 'the true meaning of Christmas,' three years ago:

The year after that I decided to go ballistic over the crass commercialization of Christmas:
This year, I could rant and rave about 'the true meaning of Christmas' television specials: but I won't. It's not that I don't care about folks seeming to miss the point of Christmas. Instead, I've decided that:

Profit, Peanuts, and the Second Chapter of Luke

Besides, that Charlie Brown Christmas special features Linus reciting a fairly long bit from the second chapter of Luke.

And it's still televised.


"A Charlie Brown Christmas" was on ABC recently, giving someone with the Washington Post a seasonal topic:
"A CHRISTMAS WISH: Don't cut down my 'Charlie Brown Christmas' "
Michael Cavna, Comic Riffs, Entertainment, The Washington Post (December 7, 2011)

"When ABC aired 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Monday night, the beloved holiday special came with all the trimmings.

"So much was trimmed from the show, in fact, that miffed fans were comparing notes and commiserating over what classic moments had gone AWOL. Viewers said that cherished scenes involving Sally, Shermie, Lucy and Shroeder (among other footage) were cut — suddenly and eerily missing like a phantom tree-limb....

"...Peanuts Worldwide, the company that shepherds all things Charlie Brown and Snoopy, confirmed to Comic Riffs on Tuesday morning that the Emmy-winning special was edited down to come in at about 22 minutes — the available running time once you account for ads.

"That's right: The heartwarming special that sounds a clarion call against the overcommercialization of Christmas had once again fallen prey to too many commercials at Christmas....

"...When it airs in its entirety, though, the full running time of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' is just under 25.5 minutes. So some wintry scenes must be tossed like a sharply aimed snowball. And ABC sticks to this tight schedule when 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' is paired with a piggyback airing of Disney's 'Prep & Landing 2.'

"Yet as a viewer who has watched 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' my entire life, I relish the rhythms and precise pacing and flow of a show that my muscle-memory knows by heart. Deleting a key scene is like cutting a chorus from a musical masterwork, and my immersion into the work is disturbed by the curious and nagging absence....

"...Like its trademark scraggly tree, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' needs to be appreciated for its full greatness. So please, put down the chainsaw.

"Fortunately, on Dec. 15, ABC will air 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' again this season - in its inspiring entirety. The special will air as part of a one-hour block with the special 'Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales' (8-9 p.m. Eastern)...."
My guess is that someone has caught on that a judicious mixing of cautions against "overcommercialization," music, and verses from the Bible, can be - well, commercial.

Christmas: a Commercial Racket

Since 'money is the root of all evil,' anything commercial must be bad, right?


For starters, it's love of money that gets us into trouble. (1 Timothy 6:10, Hebrews 13:5) "Love of money" is a sort of idolatry: which is a really bad idea:
"...Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc...."
(Catechism, 2113)
I've been over that before:
Do some folks in America spend crazy amounts of money on Christmas gifts? More money than is reasonable? In my opinion, yes.

Is racking up more credit card debt on lavish gifts a good idea? No, I don't think so.

Is getting the latest/most expensive/most fashionable stuff more important than charitable works? What do you think I'll say? I'm a practicing Catholic, and charity is one of the three theological virtues. (Catechism, 1813) Yes, of course: Charity is important.

Charity isn't just for the comparatively wealthy, by the way. Folks who don't have a lot of money can allocate their time instead: Which I've done on occasion.

Scrooge had Ghosts: I've got Bishops

America bishops have a sort of conscience-checking resource. I picked out a part that might apply to crazy holiday spending:
"Rights and Responsibilities
  • "Do I recognize and respect the economic, social, political, and cultural rights of others?
  • "Do I live in material comfort and excess while remaining insensitive to the needs of others whose rights are unfulfilled?
  • "Do I take seriously my responsibility to ensure that the rights of persons in need are realized?
  • "Do I urge those in power to implement programs and policies that give priority to the human dignity and rights of all, especially the vulnerable?"
("Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
Applying those principles can be tricky, I think.

Take "material comfort and excess," for example. I'm an American, on the low side of the income scale. 'Obviously,' I don't have to worry about excess: since lots of folks have more money than I do. Equally 'obviously,' I should be wracked with guilt because I'm in a heated building, using technology that my ancestors never dreamed of. I'm even sitting in a chair that isn't particularly uncomfortable.

I think the truth is somewhere between those extremes. I've opined about moderation before. And that is yet another topic.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.