Keeping the Season
by Lori Heine
Christmas has become so commercialized that we scarcely know what to include in our holiday and what to leave out. We’re expected to be good Americans and buy lots of stuff. The question of whether that makes us good Christians often remains unasked.
As an Episcopalian, I’m part of the liturgical church tradition. We have a whole calendar of feasts and holy days, and our seasons are very distinct. The four weeks leading up to Christmas are Advent. The season of Christmas lasts for twelve days, and doesn’t begin until Christmas Day. Our church calendar is not dictated by the marketing plans of Macy’s or Walmart.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the holiday’s early extension. I love carols, parties and good cheer as much as anybody. But it’s important to me that I remember the spirit of Christmas. Though we’ve all heard that phrase a zillion times, please let me explain what I mean.
Welcoming the Christ child into our hearts originally meant doing something very unpopular. When Mary and Joseph searched for a room at an inn--while her very labor pains were beginning--no one could be bothered to accommodate them. The popular thing was simply to care about the travelers who had the most money, but Mary and Joseph were poor. And thereafter, in the Roman empire, welcoming the Christ child might have led to a martyr’s death, so it was unpopular for the first several centuries of the faith.
Another thing we hear about zillions of times is that for many people the holidays are stressful, or even depressing. This can often be traced not only to loneliness, but to lack of funds. It’s unpopular to make people without much money feel welcome.
In the LGBTQ community, much of the loneliness that so often accompanies the holidays can also be traced to our unpopularity. In many families, we still aren’t welcome. The whole spirit of “Let’s do everything the way it’s popular” frequently works against us.
Both Christmas and New Year’s are times for reflection. We’re given an opportunity to look back on the year that’s passing away and toward the one just beginning. Reflection isn’t popular, because it requires no money and is not fun. But LGBTQ Christians tend to be more reflective than the average. We’re quite good at sifting through the unimportant to find what is meaningful.
In the liturgical tradition, Christmas begins on Christmas Day because the holiday is about Christ, and that’s the day He was born. Keeping the season as it was meant to be kept has some real advantages for us. When popularity is no longer a consideration, we realize that we’re as welcome-worthy as anyone else. If our lives are not all we’d like them to be, reflecting on how we might make them better in the New Year can lead to hopefulness. The end of the Christmas season, when properly understood, shouldn’t be a letdown, because Jesus will be with us the entire year.
No matter what your denomination, or if you have no denomination at all, keeping a more liturgically-traditional Christmas can have beneficial effects. Just as Jesus was worthy of welcome, despite not being popular, we are worthy of welcome today. Why? Because we bear His Name, and because we live in His heart just as He lives in ours. We’ve got something so much better than popularity that it cost all the riches of Heaven to buy--yet, in Christ, was freely given to us.
I wish all of you the merriest rest of your Christmas season and the happiest of New Years.
© 2019 Lori Heine
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