Glory to God in the Highest, Ya Filthy Animals!

 

Home-alone-08

“Love saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” I’ve heard a few people joke, making light of the President’s promise that he would bring Jesus’ birthday back to the White House, an invitation one imagines our Lord happily declining. “Merry Christmas” is quickly becoming this administration’s “Thanks Obama” — a sardonic slogan stripped of any real meaning; more useful to critics than allies.

Or worse, perhaps, is the way “Merry Christmas” has become something of a “fuck you.” If that sounds crass, that’s exactly how I intend it. “We’re saying Merry Christmas again!” has a silent, tacked-on “…and there’s nothing you can do about it.” The sacred celebration of the incarnation is stripped of its dignity, made a mockery of and crucified to appease the Empire. Fitting enough. 

With this, it’s no surprise that Christmas has sort of an icky taste. What’s a saint to do when when all the sacred relics are mass produced for consumption by Rome?  It’s like the innkeeper kicked Mary and Joseph to the barn, and then started charging $5 to view the manger.

So I turn my attention to the less sacred elements of Christmas. If the holiday must be crass, let us sin boldly. Love Actually, spiked eggnog, “Santa Baby” and mistletoe. For all the mourning about the over-commercializing of Christmas, at least there’s something appealingly honest about it. The holy isn’t being profaned in “Last Christmas.” There’s no sanctimony in Home Alone.  You can’t profane the profane. It’s refreshing. “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!” Come to think, it’s probably akin to how Mary and Joseph felt when the magi showed up with gold. Praises from shepherds are nice and all, but you can’t buy bread with them.

The magi. Interesting lot. There’s some debate about how many there are, as you might know. The Bible never specifies how many wise men visited Jesus, but Western Christian tradition reasonably assumed that since there were three gifts, there must have been three wise men (Syriac churches believe the number to be twelve, for reasons of their own). The notion that they were “kings” of any kind is not supported by the biblical narrative at all.

The question of how many wise men there were is, I think, the least interesting thing about the biblical account. The most interesting: how did they find Jesus?

We have but one clue, from Matthew 2. “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.'”

The Bible does not tell us how the magi came to the conclusion that a star marked the coming of a new king for the Jews, and most modern retellings skip over this utterly insane detail with brevity. The magi were followers of the teachings of Zoroaster, an Iranian prophet whose teachings were already ancient by the time Jesus showed up. “Magi” is the same word from which we get our modern word “magicians,” but the followers of Zoroaster deplored sorcery. They studied astrology, which they considered to be a science distinct from mysticism.

You may be aware that Christianity here in the U.S. doesn’t care much for astrology, writing the whole practice off as goofy mumbo jumbo. Christians as a whole have a rather nasty habit of seeing all other religions as not just wrong, but hilariously wrong. The same people who will swear up and down that a virgin gave birth to God’s own Son who was also God Himself will mercilessly berate a freshman at NYU for checking her horoscope.

And yet, the stars led magi to Jesus Christ himself.

That’s why I’m embracing the secular this Christmas. In hopes that somewhere in the peals of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is something true, beautiful, and neatly tucked away from the ravages of hyper-politicization. Perhaps my modern imagination of white Mary, white Joseph, and sweet Republican, suitably homophobic Baby Jesus is past the point of rescue, but when Jesus came to earth, he left a mark larger and deeper than a nativity set. It can be found in A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town” and Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” It’s nestled in the toe of the patent leather black boots on the Mall Santa, at the bottom of every ladle of mulled wine and flashing between the frames of the claymation special.

These crass, stupid cash grabs are my Star of Bethlehem this year. They flash in the night, pointing a way to Jesus that may not be as direct as a Bible story, but it’ll do the trick for me as surely as it did for the magi, however many of them there were.  Star of Wonder. Star of Night. Star of royal beauty bright. Guide me to thy perfect light, or at least get me close enough to remember that “Merry Christmas” is not the message that was proclaimed that night. The message, according to the messengers themselves, was simply this: “Fear not. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And then a bunch of angels showed up. Heavenly hosts, if you will, singing their hearts out and probably sending the sheep into a tizzy. The shepherds found Jesus through them. The magi found Jesus through a star. Not sure we’re in much position to judge how you find Jesus. The trick is to do so.

It’s difficult now. It was harder then, what with the saddle sores and wicked King Herod. But it amounts to the same thing. The same baby. The same Savior. The same God, who meets us this Christmas and every other, coming to set free the captive and humble the proud. He is in every truth, for he is truth itself, and speed of his mercy remains as matchless as it is terrible. That’s who I’m looking for this Christmas, by whatever stars God gives me.

Glory to God in the highest. You filthy animals.

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2 Comments

  1. Nancy Huckabee

     /  December 13, 2017

    Way to go tyler

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Reply
  2. Really love these thoughts here, Tyler. We are in the same boat this year. Teaching Ruby about Jesus coming to earth while also finding joy in her embracing her Rudolph window clings which hang out right above our advent nativity scene. “Santa is going to bring Jesus lots of presents!” Not really, but if the Magi are doing it, then why can’t Santa.

    Reply

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