December 22, 2007

The Curmudgeon Is in the Hizzie

I have been on quite a tirade lately around home about "the holidays" and the corruption of Christmas into an orgy of sentimentalism driving the capitalist machine. (My wonderful wife is truly a saint to put up with me.) I wrote a horrible screed recently calling for the cancellation of Christmas, which fortunately I had the wisdom not to publish. (The only redeemable part of it is at the end of this post.) The blog Dark My Road referred in a recent post to the graying effect that winter has on everything: "Most pastors will tell you that December and January are when most of the family problems come to a head in the parish, and that it is the time when everyone's difficulties rise to the surface. This, too, has the effect of graying and mushing everything together, especially for the pastor." That has certainly been my experience as well. Families that have difficulty seem to explode about this time of year.

I don't think it is just the weather, though. The expectations we have put upon us--and that we create for ourselves--that "the holidays" need to be "special" tie into this as well.

I myself often buckle under the (self-imposed?) pressure I feel to do justice to John the Baptist's call to repentance, the Incarnation, and the limited opportunity one will have with those on the margins of the church. I resent (wrongly) anything that takes me away from preparation for that. I much prefer Lent and Easter--there are no parties and gifts to distract, and people generally seem more stable at that time of year.

At any rate, here is the salvageable part of what I wrote earlier:

I have not done any historical research on this, but all this emphasis on gifts and parties must be fairly new. When you read sermons from previous generations, you can get something of a sense of the ordinary life of people--their sins, struggles, and culture--by how the preacher connects the biblical text to his hearers. In reading several Advent sermons by Luther and Gerhard the last few days, it struck me that they never mention gifts, presents, or even decorations there. It must not have been happening, at least not in the obscene manner of our day. Contrast that with a recent sermon by Rev. Andrew Smith, a navy chaplain who preached at one of our Advent services. He made reference to a "new car with a shiny bow wrapped around it," and the entire congregation chuckled, seeing the Lexus commercial in our minds. Men like Luther and Gerhard simply didn't know that kind of culture. I wonder what they, or John the Baptist, would say about how Christians observe the "Christmas season" today.


Lutheran Lucciola said...

I have noticed a lack of consumerism in the past, too, historically around Christmas. The trend looks like a post-WW2 thing, for a large part of it.

The simple life movement is changing things slowly again, it appears.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Actually, what I found funny was reading the sermon for the 4th Sunday in Advent from the Concordia Pulpit from 1940 - where the guy was lamenting all the commericalism and focus on parties and shopping.

There were Christmas parties - but they were simple affairs (think on Dickens' Christmas Carol and its parties). After the "greatest" generation decided it had to spoil all the baby boomers into hooligans, that's when things got real rough.

And around the turn of the previous Century Coke invents the modern Santa Claus. That helped too.