Jared Witt l December 22, 2016
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:78-79.
I don’t think anyone who reads the Castle Church blog needs me to point out the madness of spending stupid amounts of money on shiny garbage in a world where Kwashiorkor’s Disease is a real thing and then getting bent out of shape because the checkout clerk wishes “Happy Holidays.” But just for fun, let's take that line of thinking to its conclusion. If I understand correctly, the argument goes that the more times you fit the word “Christ” or “Christian” into your speech, the more Christian you are. Or more generally, you are a thing only if and as much as you say you are that thing.
If the reverse is also true, then, of course, Lou Gehrig didn’t have Lou Gehrig’s disease because he never strung together the words “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” and Stephen Hawking stopped being Stephen Hawking when he could no longer say, “I am Stephen Hawking.”
I don’t know about the rest of the Christians out there, but I for one don’t want to come up short when my final word count is tallied. So just to be safe, I suggest we start referring to baseball as Christball, you know, just to cover our bases...But then, “ball” is such a secular term, isn’t it? Maybe instead of Christball, we should double down and go with Christchrist, you know, just to cover our Christs.
Even still, I have to wonder what the quota is. If I say the word Christmas 10 times on my trip to the mall, will that be sufficient? What about 50? Will it be a sufficiently Christian trip to the mall if I say Christmas 100 times, maybe? Why not double that by calling Christmas Christchrist? But then, how would I distinguish that from the kind of Christchrist that Lou Gehrig Christed?
Quickly, you see the law of diminishing returns come into play if we really buy into this, we’ll call it, Fox News way of practicing Christianity. In fact, for all of our efforts at following this commandment which doesn't exist, "thou shalt constantly lambast thy brethren with my name," we would come very close to breaking one that does, "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain."
In the 1950’s, European playwrights started the genre now known as “theater of the absurd.” As I understand it, what these plays all had in common was they sought to portray life as tragically meaninglessness and did so through devolving language—clichés used several times too many, words repeated, distorted, turned into their opposite and a smattering of illogic and general nonsense. That is to say, once words lost meaning, so too did the plays and with them the lives they portrayed.
It seems that the defenders against the “war on Christmas” are using the strategy of any good marketer: all name recognition is good recognition, tag it to anything and everything no matter what the association? Flood the TV networks and billboards and internet news feeds with your brand. Put it at the front of every consciousness so that the masses flock to you not so much by desire but by default, i.e. for lack of a more conscious choice. Need a used car? Come to CarMax. Looking for a religious celebration? Have you tried Christmas?
Shouldn't any Christian who has ever watched the news on Black Friday want to dissociate our Lord from this annual theater of the absurd? Maybe letting Saturn have his pagan orgy of avarice would be the most Christian thing we could do.
What the French absurdists understood was, once words had been broken down to mean their opposite or nothing at all, the play can only end in silence.
That’s what I’m hoping for more of this Holiday season. Silence.
I’m fine the “Merry Christmas”-ers and the “Happy Holidays”-ers. I’m even alright with the too-cool-for-school “Happy Exotic Festival that I don’t actually observe, myself” hipsters. But what I’m really interested in this Advent season, is silence. Silence without news pundits, without political pandering, without those weird Christmas songs that creepily sexual (you know the ones).
Silence for the world that bleeds while we protest coffee cups.
Silence for those who are in the cold.
Silence for those whose faith is so sad and anemic that they feel it needs to constantly be reinforced by the society around them.
Anyhow, I doubt my own capacity to invoke Christ into being with the sheer volume of my words. I figure he pretty much does what he wants. What I would rather model is a quiet soul that “magnifies the Lord” and unclouded eyes, that we may see “the dawn from on high break upon us.” Only with quiet tongues might Christ “guide our feet into the way of peace.”
For an inspiring way to participate in what Christ’s birth actually means for the world, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” go to http://www.htflive.org/ and consider giving to the Haitian Timoun Foundation’s annual “It’s Not Your Birthday” campaign.
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @prjwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.
On how Castle Church is stirring up a movement from a brewery in Florida.