Grinch in the Aedificium!I’m home from church, listening to a random selection of some of my Christmas music and thinking about various aspects of Christmas and Advent, Church, St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, and so on. Coffee with cinnamon with a nip of butterscotch schnapps.

Random thought #1. Second week of Advent lights a candle representing Hope. Like last week, the question has to be “What are we hoping for?” Can it be the same thing as waiting? Is it the same thing as expecting? I’m hoping that the Church may experience the Gospel anew. But do I expect it? Not especially. I expect more of the same, but I certainly am not hoping for it. Hope is the audacity to dream of and perhaps even prophesy the unexpected, the utterly new, the totally absurd. Hope is holding a newborn in your hands today and just dreaming the dream that the child lives and that you can leave him or her a world that is a little more like the Kingdom of God than it was when you found it.

Random thought #2. One can’t be faulted for thinking from time to time that graduate education is a Faustian bargain that may very well cost you your religious soul.

Random thought #3. Christmas is easily the most icon-saturated period of time in the entire year. There are more festivals and rituals that go with this season in America than any other American holiday. Most of these do not occur in the churches, but on civic spaces like malls, buildings, family dining rooms, state houses, and public squares and parks.

Random thought #4. What does transpire in the specific sphere of religion is always the happy, feel-good story of the Christ-child’s Nativity. The story itself, should we actually care to look at it carefully, is anything but. Indeed, the birth of the Savior is something worth celebrating and should be celebrated with joy and revelry, as the Romans celebrated the birthday of their own savior Caesar. But the story cannot lose any more context for its meaning than it already has. The Christ was born under empire, and the Gospels describe the Nativity in counter-imperial terms. His birth challenged the Empire of the World; considering America’s position as a 21st century Rome, we need to hear this story challenge us and unsettle us, lest a new Caesar or Herod order another massacre of innocents. Again. And again.

Random thought #5. Many of us know that the songs, images, icons, and general “folkloric” celebrations of Christmas have little or nothing to do with Christianity and the churches over the last 1800 years or so. We also know that much of our Christmas symbolism are “baptized” forms of ancient European and Mediterranean popular culture, and for this reason many Christians of more fundamentalist stripes, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and independent fundamentalist baptists, refuse to observe the holiday because it’s a pagan and Catholic thing, not a Biblical one. There’s a long history of this in the US, particularly from the Colonial Era and into the nineteenth century. But there have always been those who, even while recognizing the ancient pagan provenance of so much Christmas practice and symbolism, have baptized and re-christened the symbols into all Christian icons. Example: the candy cane, simply a confectionary convenience in shape, became a shepherd’s crook. Holly and Ivy became Christ’s crown of thorns and his drops of blood. Four calling birds and the other twelve days of Christmas became the four Gospels. And so on.

All well and good. But there comes a point where it’s too easy to re-christen anything and everything, and what bugs me about this is that the same principles are used to justify the all-pervasive practices of consumption that the Christmas season celebrates and perpetuates. It just galls me that many Christians, individual and collective, try to harmonize a system like this of gross capitalist injustice and advocacy of empire with a faith whose scriptures, which we supposedly consider to be fundamental to our identity, condemns this very thing. Ugh.

Random thought #6. It’s not healthy to watch the Grinch, Charlie Brown, any version of Dickens’ ChristmasI killed it…Oh, everything I touched gets ruined! Carol, and the New Line Nativity Film all in the same week. It’s even worse if you read them in connection with the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke. Result: blogs like this.

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