I am so over Ordinary Time. Now on to the exciting stuff. . .
December 2 was the first Sunday in Advent, the liturgical season during which Christians wait in hope for Christmas Day: the ancient celebration of getting lots of presents.
In anticipation of this holy occasion, we stockpile things –all sorts of sparkly, fantastical things –for the day that is coming. And truly, nothing says “Thank you Jesus Christ for being born into the world to show us The Way and to die for our sins” quite like that inflatable family of penguins on the front lawn.
In 2004, Madame Tussauds wax museum in London displayed an alternate crèche scene, with the Beckhams as Mary and Joseph, Blair and Bush among the wise men, and Kylie Minogue as the angel. Church officials thought the display was blasphemous; I dissented, and thought it ingenious.
Sure, the exhibit was irreverent. But well behaved artists rarely make history. My take was that the exhibited was not intended to mock the Holy Family, but rather, it was a jab at us ‘Christians.’ The scene from Tussauds forced me to ask myself about my own idols. What do I worship in place of the great God who humbled Himself for us?
When I was growing up, my parents did their best to save me. I was an unrelenting pagan baby worshiping at the altar of American Girls dolls, hieroglyphic stamp kits and moon shoes [best Christmas present ever, Santa!] and, for the first ten years of my life, the Christmas God was overshadowed by His obese missionary. Mom and Dad took me to church, lit Advent candles and encouraged me to think of the less fortunate. My parents wanted me to understand why we celebrated Christmas and the implications of the holy day. The most sophisticated theological question I could gather regarding the birth of Our Savior was “So, when do we get the presents?”
It may come as no surprise then, that being told by my mom the truth about Santa was the first spiritually devastating experience of my life. True, I had been rifling through the presents in my mother’s secret hiding place for years, but like a good fact-ignoring religionist, I had refused to accept the truth –even when I was holding it in my sneaky little hands. Besides, there was no way that my parents were as generous as Santa. And could all these people really have lied to me for this long? Even Grandma?
But one December morning, fearing that I may leak the illicit knowledge to my younger siblings, my mom pulled me into the bathroom. “I know you know there is no Santa,” she admitted. “Please don’t spoil your brother and sister’s Christmas by telling them.” Suddenly confronted with a dark, Santa-less world, I burst into hysterics, my body heat and tears steaming up the small room.
“I want Santa to be real,’ I wailed. ‘Me too,’ my mother cried. We held each other and wept.
Maybe the story of Santa is an innocent, sweet fable we tell our children. Or maybe Santa, in his endless gluttony, is a reflection of us. We created this god in our image: an overweight, well-intentioned compulsive shopper. We chose Santa because somehow we think the Jesus story isn’t good enough, or that God’s birth is really just too impractical. But flying reindeer? Totally sane.
Getting over Santa is no small task. In fact, the de-Santafication of my spirituality may be the great challenge of my life. Santa epitomizes Christianity Lite: his story is culturally created, vaguely Christian and self-indulgent. Santa encourages good behavior in fear of punishment. Santa rewards everyone who is not bad. There’s nothing not to love about Santa, which is precisely why Christianity Lite contains no depth, no challenge, no deep satisfaction.
Fortunately, we don’t need Santa. We have Jesus.
Following Jesus after submitting to Santa has taught me to give without recompense, to constantly re-evaluate my priorities and to question the authority that tells me I should feel good about participating in a particular religious culture.
De-Santafication means that if I ever am satisfied with my work as a Christian, if I ever decide that I have done enough and can rest easy, I must stir myself with the saying associated with another plump religious figure:
“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
Image courtesy of Rosana Prada