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Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Collision of Holidays

We have a collision of holidays (that is “holy days”) this week.  On Thursday many Americans will celebrate the national day of Thanksgiving – those that aren’t working at one of those major retail outfits to support our national gross consumerism.  They will sit down to turkey dinners and stuffing and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie as tradition demands to celebrate that national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," inaugurated by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

And by a fluke of the calendar, Thursday also marks the beginning of the Jewish Festival of Lights this year (2013).  Hanukah is the eight day long celebration of the rededication temple in Jerusalem after the victories won by Judas Maccabees and his armies against Antiochus Epiphanes IV. 

Next Sunday we enter officially into the season of Advent – when it begins to become acceptable to sing those Christmas carols.  This is only Advent, however.  Despite the Christmas creep that starts Christmas earlier and earlier each year to support our national gross consumerism, the (Christian) Christmas season (as opposed to the secular / economic season) doesn’t begin until December 25th

So we have Thanksgiving, Hanukah, and Advent in mind – and the lectionary reading for this morning (Luke 23: 33 – 43) brings us back around again to Good Friday.  This is not an accident.  This is not a fluke of the calendar.  This is not the result of poor planning or just a random selection of scripture.  Those who designed the liturgical calendar of the Christian Church chose this reading for this Sunday in order to bring our attention back around to Jesus’ execution and death at the very moment that we are beginning to prepare our hearts and minds (through Advent) to remember his birth.  We do this to remind ourselves of the real reason of the season.

“…Christmas is not really the acme of the liturgical year.  Christmas simply commemorates, not celebrates, the historical birth of Jesus, whenever that might have been. Because of Christmas, the life of Jesus was possible.  Because of Christmas, the Incarnation can be fulfilled at Easter.  Because of Christmas the humanity of Jesus is a fact.  But the birth of Jesus is not the central meaning of the faith.  On the contrary, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that are the core of Christianity (Chittister, 54-55).”[i]

Christianity existed – flourished even – in the early centuries without Christmas.  The earliest Christians got along just fine without Christmas.  The Apostle Paul doesn’t say anything about the birth of Jesus except that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…”[ii] Two of the four Gospels included in our bibles say nothing about his birth.  Because his birth, while it begins his story, and locates it in a specific place and in a particular time, is not the important part of the story.  It’s only the beginning of the story.  But all four gospels, the apostle Paul, and the earliest Christians celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

As we enter into this collision of holidays, as we venture out into the hustle and bustle (and frenzy!) of holiday traditions, and gross consumerism, as we are gathering to remember to give thanks, and as we begin to prepare ourselves through the season of Advent, let’s remember that the sacrificial death and the glorious resurrection is what’s important here. 

Good Friday is more important than Black Friday
“Father forgive them,” is more important than gifts from Father Christmas
“Today, you will be with me in Paradise” is more important than “Away in a Manger.”
This is the reason for the Season.

[i] Chittister, Joan The Liturgical Year, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN, 2009.
[ii] Galatians 4: 4 – 5 New Revised Standard Version

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