Keeping Christmas, Losing Self

My latest column at Dangerous is up.

At other times of the year, perhaps you have a daily routine. You look around the nation where you live, and hear the speech of men, tap your feet to their music, tend to your work and to the chores imposed on you, and after relax with a good book or a cold beer, a warm fire or a flickering screen.  And, at least from time to time, the nation seems strange, the music not as good as once it was. The book is dull or the beer is flat. The fire is sullen ashes in the grate you will have to clean up later, and you wonder why you did not tune the television to the fireplace channel.

Your home here on earth does not slake this peculiar homesickness. This is a homesickness for elsewhere.

This time of year, at least in me, that homesickness grows acute. Then snow falls and days grow short and dark, and the town puts festive lights from pole to pole, and stripe the lampposts like candy-canes. The shops put snowmen and Father Christmas in their windows, and the bolder put nativity scenes. And in those few, overlooked, happy places were the malign powers of the ACLU as yet have reached no dark tentacle, a giant Christmas tree might be decorated in the town square. Elfland comes to earth.

It is as if the town square and the shops become pictures into elsewhere, magical pictures you can step into.

But it is still just a picture. You listen for sleigh bells in the snow, and peer up into the night sky, half hoping to glimpse a flying reindeer. Few and far between are horse-drawn sleighs these days, and the sound of such bells fell silent long ago. Flying reindeer there are none, and never were.

Pictures are always just pictures. Even a picture you might step into is never the real place pictured. No shop and no quaint town square can be the elsewhere for which your heart longs.

Christmas displays and decorations are meant to recall to our hearts a place we know. But how might we step through the magic picture to the real place?

Where do we look for the meaning of Christmas? Perhaps in stories. If you are like me, and you are my age, at this season of the year, you watch shows both childish and serious about how Santa grew a beard or why Frosty the Snowman came to life or how a reindeer’s nose saved Christmas. You watch at least three different versions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, one animated by Ken Harris, one starring Alastair Sims, and one starring muppets; and you see how Ebenezer Scrooge is wealthy and selfish and content with his life, but the spirit of Christmas touches him, shows him his life in past, present, and future, and he changes. Then you watch It’s a Wonderful Life, and you see how George Bailey is poor and selfless and suicidal, but the spirit of Christmas touches him, shows him the world where he had no past, no present, and no future, and he changes.

And perhaps you wonder, how Linus Van Pelt happens to know Luke 2: 8-14 by heart to recite to Charlie Brown; until (if you are me) your young child explains that these are the lines in the Christmas play Lucy had to threaten Linus into memorizing. Unlike George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge, who do not hear the name of Christ mentioned once, Charlie Brown gets a direct answer as to what Christmas is all about.

Hearing the word is not enough, of course. The rest of the Peanuts gang are not touched by the spirit until they give their love to a spindly, small, and worthless tree, and this magically makes it beautiful. Charles Schultz was not only an insightful comedian, his theological instincts were sound.

All Christmas stories, perhaps with the exception of Die Hard, are love stories.

Love stories by their nature must be a little indirect, for the same reason none but eagles may stare at the naked sun unblinded. Love is a divine thing, therefore dangerous. We weak-eyed humans must approach these matters indirectly. It is perhaps for these reasons that Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey meet the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come or Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, and not the Virgin Mary. It is why there is no mention of Christ in these famous Christmas stories. Perhaps their faith, or the faith of the muses whispering to the authors who wrote them, is insufficient to portray truly heavenly persons faithfully. Not every muse is as strong-eyed as she who inspired C.S. Lewis to write of Aslan.

And so it is indirectly, not bluntly, that these stories tells us how to find the elsewhere for which we are secretly homesick…

Read the rest here:

Please read and support my work on Patreon!