Religious Spirit and Secular Spirit of Christmas

The secular Christmas Spirit and the religious Christmas Spirit. Two different ways of approaching Christmas, and yet maybe both have something to help us prepare for this great feast of the Church.

During the first seven days of December, we had 36 people who committed to praying for one hour a day. We divided up, each taking one specific hour in the day so that as a group, we were praying 24/7. That’s lifting up prayers 24 hour/day for every hour of one week. What many of us realized in this spiritual discipline was what a beautiful way to help each of us enter into the Christmas spirit, the spiritual and religious spirit of Jesus Christ’s birth and entrance into the world. We consciously set aside one hour a day to try and connect with God, to talk to Him and listen to Him, and to pray for one another and the world.

Of course, many people love this season because of the secular Christmas spirit – the beautiful lights on everyone’s home, Christmas music we hear on the radio and everywhere we go, the Christmas cards we send and receive, the parties and celebrations we have, and the overall joy and generous, kind spirit this season represents. Truth be said, there’s much beauty in this secular Christmas spirit, but there is something even more beautiful and more meaningful when we take the time to think about what the feast of Christmas is actually about.

For our 24 hour prayer chain, I offered everyone a packet of various prayers, along with the names of everyone from our parish for them to pray for. Part of the prayers included some deeply theological hymns our Church sings during various Christmas services. In several of the hymns, a recurring theme stood out – “Christ has come to renew humanity and to renew all of creation.”

What does this mean to “renew” humanity? And how can each of us enter into such a renewed life?

Well, as I was reflecting on this theme of a renewed life, Pres. Faith and I did our annual Christmas tradition of watching two secular Christmas shows - a beautiful rendition of A Christmas Carol as a musical, and then we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s interesting to me how both of these Christmas classics that so many people watch year in and year out, really say very little about Jesus Christ and the actual Christmas story, and yet, in a touching way they both get across something of the renewed life for which Christ came to initiate.

A Christmas Carol vividly portrays the extremes of evil and good, with miserly Ebenezer Scrooge representing a most pathetic, egocentric, miserable fellow who cares only about himself and his money, showing no compassion for his fellow human being. His world revolves around his own ego and his treasure. Yet through the visitations of three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, he comes to realize what Christmas, and humanity, are truly all about – life is all about sharing his blessings to care for the poor and offering himself to others. Not only does he discover the meaning of life, but he realizes this is what brings the most joy and happiness in life – giving of self for others.

It’s a Wonderful Life is not so much about a renewed, transformed life, as it is of a simple life lived in the most sacrificial manner, a life where one always puts others before oneself and doing it in such a humble manner that he never really thinks he is doing something special, thus never taking credit for it. The power of this movie is that although the protagonist, George Baily, thinks his life is a failure because he doesn’t have the wealth and comfort of his friends and others, in the end he actually discovers that he is the richest person in the world – his richness and greatness coming from the life he lived, a life of sacrificial love.

Interestingly, although these two Christmas classics don’t even talk about the birth of Jesus Christ and how He helps renew our lives, they do offer beautiful, moving examples of the “Christmas spirit” – lives of serving others, lives of giving to others, lives of turning away from self and toward the other.

Of course, the greatest example of such a perfect life of sacrificial and generous love is Jesus Christ Himself. He represents the ideal – much greater than George Baily or Ebenezer Scrooge. And He not only sets the perfect example, but he also calls each one of us to follow His path, imitate His life, and allow divine love to be our guide.

I think here is where we all can discover the Christmas path of renewal. No matter how good any of us may think we are, or no matter how generous and how loving we see ourselves, from the time that Jesus entered the world 2000 years ago, from the time of Christmas onwards, we now have the only standard by which we judge ourselves – Jesus Christ. We can never become too proud, or think too highly of ourselves, because compared to the unconditional, sacrificial love of Christ, we all fall far short. And yet, we never give up in despair because of our failings, but instead we learn that it is only in Jesus Christ, filled with His Spirit daily, that we can find the inspiration, the power, the guidance and the hope to grow more and more in His likeness. He will help and guide us to become more like Him!

He sets the standard, and then shows us the path and gives us the tools and power so that we can fulfill our divine potential!

Christ has come to renew each one of us. Christmas is all about renewal. May each of us understand this central place of renewal, and may we all make a renewed commitment to following Jesus Christ, striving to imitate Him and becoming more and more like Him, and allowing His Spirit and Presence to empower and change our lives even more into His likeness!

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