In the Orthodox tradition, on the second Sunday before Christmas, we read at the Divine Liturgy from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:4-11. They are words the Church has come to believe prepare us for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. An interesting Epistle, chosen long before there was a consumerist driven notion of the Christmas season. Perhaps we can compare or contrast the words of St. Paul with what we think is the spirit of the season in our culture:
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you also once walked when you lived in them. But now you must also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Our modern sense of the “spirit of Christmas” with its warm and fuzzy sentimentality probably cringes to hear in this season mention of fornication and greed (which St. Paul says is idolatry!). We like gentle snow fall and warm fires and angels announcing “Peace on earth!” but not mention of “anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language“. Although some will admit that is the description of slogging for 30 minutes through one traffic jam trying to get to the mall!
The Church however chooses a passage from St. Paul which suggests to us that Christmas is about us putting “on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him . . . Christ is all and in all.” We are not just to keep Christ in Christmas, we are each to put on Christ. We are to experience our baptisms in which we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). Christmas is to be a renewal of our baptisms.
When Christ appears again, we are to appear with Him in glory (that’s how the epistle lesson for the day started – see above). For us to appear with Him in glory, we need to get rid of all of those elements of our lives that are ungodly and unchristian. The Christmas season if it has a purpose is to help us clean up our lives so that we can appear with Christ in glory, which means ridding ourselves of sin. That is a very Christmas theme.
Roman Catholic author Peter Kreeft frequently writes about the moral life for Christians. We can consider some of his words compared to what St. Paul wrote above:
“Ever since the dawn of the modern era in the Renaissance (i.e., the Regression) and the Enlightenment (i.e., the Darkening), our civilization has been redirecting more and more of its spiritual interest and energy away from the traditional goal of conforming the soul to God and to the new goal of conforming the world to the desires of the soul, away from ‘thy will be done’ to ‘our will be done’, from playing creature to playing God, from humility to pride. How many of us in the civilization dedicated to ‘man’s conquest of nature’ can even comprehend, much less applaud, C.S. Lewis’ remark, ‘I was not born to be free. I was born to adore and to obey’? […] Remember what adult suggests in our culture. Remember what adult books, magazines, and movies are like. Remember that Jesus never told us to be ‘adult’ but instead said, ‘Unless you…become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Mt. 18:3). Heaven’s gate is too tiny for any but a child. It is the eye of a needle. Large adult camels must go home to die or be born again as little children.” ( Back to Virtue, pgs. 100-101)
You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.